Good Fences Make Good Neighbors of Humans, Wildlife
Fences are the best way to prevent deer and other foraging animals from damaging gardens, landscape plants and orchards, but they can be expensive, and difficult or time-consuming to install.
There are other wildlife deterrents, but they might not work as well, so be prepared to share. The wildlife returns can be valuable, too.
“I think thoughtful management of shared habitat is the best option, both for us humans as well as the many wild species (vertebrate and invertebrate) that quietly support our ecosystem and economies via their ecological services and enjoyment value,” said Dana Sanchez, an Extension wildlife specialist with Oregon State University.
Still, shared habitat “can pose some challenges when animals’ day-to-day activities come into conflict with ours,” she said.
Conflicts include animals occupying and damaging buildings, eating crops and flowers, and introducing health and safety risks.
Most wildlife populations — especially those common in urban areas — are legally protected and can’t be destroyed.
So what’s a person to do?
Start by identifying the problem animals. Deer, raccoons, rabbits, possums, woodchucks, skunks, chipmunks, voles, starlings, gophers and squirrels are among those against which you might want safeguards.
Fences vary in price from $5 to $25 per foot with the average total reaching $1,500 to $3,000 for the typical yard, according to HomeGuide, an online service that matches contractors with customers. Those estimates vary widely depending on location, labor and materials.
Netting is cheap and discourages foragers, but it’s cumbersome to drape over anything but small fruit trees, berry-laden vines and shrubs. Even slight openings will allow birds to feed.
Other deterrents include taste and smell repellents (urine, egg and milk mixtures, commercial chemical sprays); scare devices (noisemakers, sprinklers, spinners); sealing entry holes to tunnels and structures; and creating distractions (alternative food sources). All might work to some degree. But animals are good at habituating to or ignoring deterrents — even the presence and barking of dogs in the yard, Sanchez said.
Knowledgeable plant selection will help reduce long-term wildlife damage, said Kathleen LaLiberte, a content manager with Longfield Gardens in Lakewood, New Jersey.
“No plant is wildlife-proof, but stick with the types they don’t find appealing,” LaLiberte said. “Tulips are like candy to deer, but few things eat daffodils. They’re poisonous.”
Plant the foods you most like to eat in protected areas around the home, while sidetracking animals elsewhere by using crops they like — assortments rich in spring peas and leaf lettuces, LaLiberte said.
Live traps are somewhat effective, but once you’ve captured that problem animal, what are you going to do with it?
Dropping them off somewhere else, “besides not being kind at all is also illegal in many, if not most, states,” Sanchez said.
“Moving animals ‘out of the way’ is not ethical for the homeowner,” she said. Professional wildlife biologists are best qualified and allowed to transfer animals, “but they’re fully cognizant of the likelihood of mortality even in the best cases, and are only doing so to support or augment populations of species in danger of decline or local extirpation.”
Dean Fosdick grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, gathered and propagated wild edibles during his nearly two decades in Alaska, and now does his gardening from his home in New Market, Virginia, He can be reached as firstname.lastname@example.org.