Raccoons in the urban interface

April 7, 2017

The best way to keep wild animals from a residence is to take away their food source, according to officials.

Raccoons, skunks and rats are all common animals found in urban areas like Ellensburg, Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Jeffrey Bernatowicz said. It is partially just a fact of life that these animals will be attracted to cities.

“There are some concerns because of the kind of things that raccoons carry,” Bernatowicz said. “That’s where personal choice comes in because having them around in an urban situation and consistently having them get into your garbage or getting into your garden can be nuisance, but if you have a kids around there is also some dangers to go with that.”

Ellensburg City Manager John Akers said the city hasn’t heard about any major raccoon problems recently, but both skunks and raccoons are common in the community.

“I haven’t seen any, but I’ve heard a lot of stories about people who’ve had those kinds of problems,” Akers said. “That doesn’t mean the problems don’t exist. It just might not be hitting our radar screen.”

Critter removal

The Department of Fish and Wildlife has a long list of suggestions for how to remove animals on its website under, “Nuisance Wildlife,” Bernatowicz said. The best thing to do is secure garbage cans, prevent animals from getting into pet food and wait for them to leave.

“Most cases if they are coming into someone’s house and causing problems, it is because food is being left outside,” he said. “The best thing to do is just remove the source that is attracting the animals and they’ll leave on their own.”

If a neighbor is feeding the wild animals Bernatowicz recommends talking to them.

“If you have a neighbor who is doing that then that’s going to be a problem,” he said. “And that’s where trapping isn’t going to be the end all, because what’s going to happen is even if you trap those animals you’re just going to attract more animals.”

If nothing else works when dealing with raccoons the best solution is to trap them and kill them, Bernatowicz said. He does not recommend releasing them somewhere else.

“You’ve got to go a long ways away to get them to not come home in the first place,” he said. “That’s the hard part the problem is that most likely if it is good raccoon habitat, there is already a raccoon there with a territory and you if drop more in there they’re just going to fight.”

Getting rid of the animals is a last resort, though.

“If it is a situation where that is not working and they’re living in somebody’s house and they cannot figure out while they’re still there, that’s when trapping and euthanasia is the last resort,” he said. “That’s why they suggest other things first to try and get animals to not be there in the first place.”

Call an expert

Ellensburg Police Department Capt. Ken Wade said the city does not allow residents to discharge a firearm inside the city limits to kill animals. The department recommends people with wildlife animal problems call a licensed exterminator or wildlife manager.

“These animals also carry other diseases and if you’re untrained and you don’t know how to properly handle the animals than you’re more apt to get bitten or scratched by them,” Wade said. “Kittitas County has a number of people in the system to take care of those issues.”

A list of qualified wildlife trappers in the Kittitas County area can be found on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website, he said.

The police department does not deal with wildlife, Wade said. It also cannot fine people who leave food out for wild animals.

“Because animal control can only enforce city code violations,” he said. “It is not a crime for you or me to feed my dog or cat at my house.”

While there are raccoons within city limits, the city of Ellensburg does not have a raccoon problem, he said.

“There have always been raccoons there always will be,” Wade said. “So I am not aware of there being any substantial problems in the city at least none that have been reported to us.”