Coexisting with wildlife, Nuisance wildlife, Wildlife management fox

Encounters with “nuisance wildlife” have been on the upswing in recent years. Complaints from homeowners run the gamut: trampled gardens, ransacked trash, chewed electric wires, shredded drywall, torn screens, harassment of pets, and the loss of chickens and other small livestock. The list of culprits includes coyotes, black bears, raccoons, foxes, rats, and snakes, to name a few. While these critters have always been around, run-ins with unwanted wildlife are becoming more frequent.

Individuals who’ve worked in the conservation field for decades, and studied the ecology of forests, fish, and wildlife, agree that the populations of many species are on the upswing. Many have become habituated to living around people, appearing in places where they didn’t exist just a few decades ago, often putting them in conflict with people. After talking with biologists and natural resource officers who deal with wildlife management for a living, I came away with a better understanding as to why we’re seeing more frequent negative interactions with wildlife.

To set the stage, the animals perceived as nuisance wildlife all have one thing in common—they are highly adaptive. They are generalists, able to live in many different habitat types, and have a varied diet, so when one source of food disappears, they can readily move to an alternate source. Having learned that where there are people, there is food, these opportunists are showing up in our yards and farms in increasing numbers, and they have no problem taking what they see as easy pickings, whether it’s garbage, pet food, garden crops, small livestock, and in some cases, even our pets.

Coexisting with wildlife, Nuisance wildlife, Wildlife management -raccoon

One reason for the increase in wildlife populations is a decrease in hunting.  In the U.S., we’ve seen a cultural decline in teaching our children to hunt. Children now shoot fake guns in video games rather than getting up early to go deer hunting with Grandpa. Several decades of negative press aimed at hunters hasn’t helped either. Fewer hunters mean higher wildlife reproduction levels, which, in turn, drive up the competition for food and habitat. As food becomes hard to find, animals are forced into human-occupied areas, hence the raids on trash cans, gardens, henhouses, beehives, and bird feeders.

While it’s true that we need to respect and learn to coexist with wildlife, we also need sound, humane hunting and trapping practices to control their numbers. Not doing so leads to overpopulation, which leaves wildlife vulnerable to starvation and disease. When biologists study and track animal populations, they can adjust management goals. If a species’ population is stable, harvest goals can maintain those numbers, but if they skew too high or too low, harvest levels can be adjusted to achieve a population level in balance with available habitat and food supply.

Another reason for the increase in numbers is the encroachment of humans into formerly wild habitats. For the last 200 years, people moving into places that were historically forestland or prairie have depleted and fragmented the habitat available to animals, pushing them ever closer to heavily-populated areas, which puts them in conflict with people. Deer living in an area between major highways or around the edges of a golf course are unnatural situations. The deer are not there by choice—they are there because they have nowhere else to go.

Coexisting with wildlife, Nuisance wildlife, Wildlife management black bear

Yet another reason we’re seeing more wildlife is the lack of natural predators. In the animal world, it’s a delicate balance of eat or be eaten. When a predator at the top of the food chain, whether bobcat, coyote, or wolf, disappears in an ecosystem due to the loss of habitat that supports them, the prey species (the animals that the predator ate) are the beneficiaries. Urban expansion into previously wild places has caused the decline of top-level predators by erasing large portions of their habitat, thereby allowing species lower on the food chain to multiply unchecked.

Wild animals living in proximity to human dwellings can lead to property damage, harassment of pets, loss of small livestock—and albeit rarely, the threat of rabies. Next to bats, raccoons are the second most common carriers of rabies. Raccoons have become somewhat reliant on human handouts or garbage for food, and are more than happy to take up residence in outbuildings, sheds, attics, and under porches or sheds, wherever there is a nearby source of food (or heat in the winter).

Coexisting with wildlife, Nuisance wildlife, Wildlife management coyote

Black bears are lovable creatures in the wild, but on the homestead, they can wreak havoc. A bear paid a visit to our farm one night, no doubt lured in by our honey bee hives. One morning, we found two hives knocked over and damaged and the bees gone. The remaining hives were left intact. Knowing the bear would return for more honey, we enclosed the hives with electrified cattle fencing with a voltage high enough to deter an animal that could weigh up to 500 pounds. We had bears come through periodically after that (as evidenced by big limbs broken off our autumn olive and peach trees), but no more attacks on the hives.

Deer are becoming a universal problem, especially in populated areas where there is no pressure to cull their numbers. In these areas, they free range on ornamental shrubs, young orchards, blueberry bushes, and vegetable crops. With the absence of predators, the deer population multiplies, and so do the nuisance reports. The ideal solution to minimizing deer damage is to keep the population in balance with its natural habitat by culling, but there isn’t always a desire to do so.

Coexisting with wildlife, Nuisance wildlife, Wildlife management
Photo by Jo Ann Abell

The most persistent predators on our farm are rats and foxes. The rats eat chicken eggs and chicks, and I’ve lost more than one free-ranging hen to a cagey fox. Snakes are big predators of mice and rats, so they mostly get a pass except for rattlesnakes and copperheads, which get a free ride to another part of the farm. Our dogs help keep the foxes away, but they aren’t always outside where they can thwart a fox attack; the aptly-named “wily” fox merely waits for an opportunity to strike when the dogs aren’t around. They attack swiftly and stealthily, most times vanishing before you even know they’re there.

It’s important to remember that while an individual animal exhibiting behavior that conflicts with human expectations may be labeled as “nuisance wildlife,” we must be careful not to apply this term to an entire species. All native species contribute to balanced ecosystems. As stewards of the earth, we need to look for ways to minimize conflict so we continue to have wild animals around to enjoy. Sound conservation management, humane hunting and trapping, and taking measures to minimize negative interactions with wildlife will go a long way toward controlling nature’s creatures that are only trying to survive.

My chicken coop is now predator-proofed to keep the rats from eating the eggs and the foxes from killing the hens. I’ve won the battle this time, but I believe the rat, along with the fox and the coyote, will be around to inherit the earth.


  1. The real culprits are humans encroaching on wild habitats and logging corridors. There are just too many people. Make cities habitable for people and green them so people don’t need to venture further for resources and food.

    1. It’s heartening when a reader expresses support and respect for wild animals. Yes, people have, and continue to, encroach on wildlife habitats. That’s the focus of a much larger article. My article focused on the reasons why wild animals, that some view as a nuisance because of the damage they do to property and livestock are increasingly turning up in human-dominated areas. I believe, as I think most people do, that wild animals play an important role in healthy, functional ecosystems, and we should do everything possible to coexist with them. Most of the damage done by wild animals could be prevented by elimnating ways they can gain access to homes, outbuildings, and livestock pens and enclosures.

  2. You fail to mention that trophy hunting has virtually eliminated apex predators. There are plenty of wildlife killing contests where animals are killed for sport and well, it’s a contest so children are taught to kill for fun and entertainment, as community activities. These types of blood sports and frankly serial killing do give hinting a bad name and have impacted the interconnected web of life to a point of great imbalance. And yet, hunting is not on the decline; in fact it is a trillion dollar industry because killing IS entertainment and the most fun sport for people who feel they are entitled to do it to a level of addiction. There are a number of species on their last leg because of human entitlement and lack of respect for the web of life and then we want to complain when animals try to survive in the and it affects us. This is not a new situation. The Romans caused extinction of lion species and other animals through trapping for their own bloodshot in the coliseum and the many stories of the crafty fox and coyote in folklore throughout the world indicate their competitive human interaction. The point is that we are animals share a planet with other species who we have viewed only as useful for food, a source of clothing, and to pull a cart or ride or to kill for fun and entertainment and to stuff. When they are not providing any of those, we call them “nuisance” and diseased and kill them for that. I fear that we will pay s heavy price eventually for the disruption of the ecosystems all of the world through our cruelty and selfishness and destructiveness/habitat loss. If we don’t look at the big picture and start taking responsibility by admitting that we don’t know how to live WITH nature in spite of our desire to live IN it as a desperate attempt to reclaim somethingwe have lost, we will lose much more than a few eggs. We can’t blame that on the foxes and bears yet we make them pay with their lives.

    1. You’ve covered a lot of ground in your coment, most of which addresses things outside the purview of my article. If you read the whole article, you probably read that managed hunting is one of the ways to manage the numbers of game animals that risk disease and starvation when their numbers increase beyond what the area they inhabit can support. It’s a well-known fact that hunting is indeed on the decline. Here’s one link supporting that fact:
      There are countless others . My aim, and the purpose of this article, was to increase awareness about why we seem to be seeing more wildlife in some areas, and how we can mediate any damage by taking simple precautions.

  3. Animal populations are a an all time high because no one hunts or traps anymore. People used to keep the predator in check but now so few people hunt animal populations have exploded. I live on a farm and nightly go out and eliminate things like skunks, possums, armadillos and other pests. You can’t garden here in the country because of the varmints. When populations are high you will begin seeing these same varmints in the daylight hours which is not a normal occurrence. And poor old Karen above need to stay inside her apartment as you clearly have no clue or experience. Just your feelings.

  4. People’s views on wild animals run the spectrum. Having lived on a farm for 12 years, I’ve had to deal with predators that posed a risk to my livestock and pets.. When my husband and I moved to the farm that backed up to a National Forest, we knew we would be faced with predators, but took every measure possible to live in peace with them, while at the same time protecting our animals. Perhaps because we lived in a rural county where hunting was still quite popular, we kept our losses from predators to two chickens and a couple of bee hives. the entire time we lived there. Neither my husband nor I are hunters, but we let people we trusted hunt our land, mostly to keep the deer population down.

  5. Great article. I live in a burb, and recently it made me very sad to see a group of deer head one way through our yard only to realize they had hit a dead end. So, they had to turn right back around, to an area they’d clearly left for a reason.
    I am a Libertarian, so I respect individual choice and freedom above all. But I would say – think long and hard about procreating. Bottom line: each person flushes a toilet a zillion times in a lifetime, and needs space to live and asphalt to drive on. Families are GREAT – and humans have a right to exist. But those deer made me think about all the space my subdivision occupies. It’s about balance, and respect for the earth and all her animals, of which we are but one.

    1. Sorry, Noelle, I just now saw your comment. I couldn’t agree with you more. Wish everyone had the same respect for the wild critters that are only trying to survive in a hostile world.

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