A different kind of pest control

STARKVILLE – Feral hogs are popular with hunters, but they can destroy crops, kill livestock and damage ponds.
Beavers are fascinating to watch, but their engineering projects can undermine roadways and destroy valuable timber.
Skunk encounters? Let’s not even go there.
In Mississippi, those species, along with foxes, nutria and coyotes, are classified as “nuisance animals.” Under state law, landowners and leaseholders have special options to control the damage they can do – including year-round harassment and hunting.
“To have a wildlife problem, you’ve got to have wildlife, you’ve got to have a resource that’s being affected and you’ve got to have a human complaining,” said Kris Godwin, state director of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
She oversees a team that helps with wildlife problems as different as cormorants that see fish farms as a free lunch, bat colonies that can threaten human health and Canada geese that foul waterfront property and threaten passersby.
APHIS is responsible for wildlife control at airports, where birds and deer can wreck planes, and federal installations. The federal agency can offer the general public advice for free and certain wildlife services for a fee, which go to pay the agency’s costs.
Hog wild
Damage caused by wild hogs goes beyond agriculture, affecting both native plant communities and wildlife and causing soil erosion – even infecting food crops with E. coli.
Trapping pigs in Mississippi is legal on one’s own land without a permit, and they can be shot year-round, with only a few limitations on weapon choice during deer seasons.
While feral hogs are reputed to be vicious, Godwin said most of them see humans as predators and try to escape.
“Almost any animal will attack if it’s cornered, but if they have an escape route, most pigs will run,” she said.
Godwin added, however, that being armed while working or hiking in known pig territory “may not be a bad idea.”
Pigs also present a rare but serious collision problem.
“People worry about hitting a 100-pound deer, but it’s very easy to have a 350-pound pig out in the wild,” said Dr. Ben West, MSU associate Extension professor of wildlife and fisheries.
Banning Bambi
Not all pest species are so classified.
“You ask a group of people how many of them have hit a deer, and most of the hands in the room will go up,” West said. The worst encounters for humans usually occur when drivers swerve to avoid deer and hit another vehicle or a tree instead.
Herds of deer can destroy crops such as soybeans and sweet potatoes. State wildlife officers can offer special predation permits, but even that may not help enough. At least one Northeast Mississippi farm has used propane cannons to make gunshot-like noise at night to scare deer out of vegetable crops.
Homeowners can protect their landscapes best by choosing plants that deer don’t like. Vegetable gardeners, West said, are limited largely to fencing.
“Temporary electric fences or eight-foot-tall woven fences can be effective,” he said. Capsaicin- and rotten-egg-based repellents can also help, he added, “as long as you keep applying them.”
Fur and feathers
Beavers chew down trees and build ponds that interfere with farming, road maintenance and other human endeavors. Control consists of killing the furry creatures.
“Beaver is my biggest program,” Godwin said. “We can’t relocate them. All the places are taken.”
Geese are federally protected and can be harassed but not physically harmed. Because they multiply rapidly, however, nest predation permits can sometimes be secured.
Bats are fabulous predators of insects, and some homeowners try to attract them with bat houses. They present a problem when they enter buildings, as they did at a now-defunct MSU dorm several years ago, leaving tons of guano that can transmit histoplasmosis.
Coyotes can kill baby livestock, but attacks on humans are almost unknown. Still, they can be hunted and trapped year-round.
Those determined to control pest species by hunting should consider that many wild animal species carry diseases transmissible to humans. West said one easy precaution eliminates much of the risk.
“Latex gloves are too cheap not to be used when you touch any dead animal,” he said. “Why take a chance?”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.

Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio