Ratcatcher’s Day

Today commemorates the day when the Pied Piper of Hamelin performed his evil plot to lure the children away from their homes.  Historians vacillate between two possible dates, but July 22, 1376, seems to hold the advantage.  Hamelin is a town in Germany, where they call this tale the “Ratcatcher of Hamelin.”  The day has evolved to the charming cause of celebrating the hard work of pest exterminators.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin rids the town of rats

            As you’ll remember, before the Pied Piper took the children away, he was called in to get rid of the city’s rats.  He did so—by playing magical music on his flute—but then the fine folks of Hamelin refused to pay.  So, he used his magic on the town’s children.  But let’s focus on his ability to get rid of the rats.  And that brings us to today’s topic—wildlife damage management.

            Wildlife damage management (WDM) is an important part of conservation.  It isn’t the first thing that conservation students think of as a career option, but it is where many find themselves later.  Wildlife can be like the definition of a weed—a plant where it isn’t wanted—because sometimes humans and wildlife don’t mix well.  As a consequence, the conflict needs to be handled.  The definition of wildlife damage management is “an activity that tries to balance the needs of humans with the needs of wildlife, to the enhancement of both.”

Beavers are a wonder to see, but they also can do major damage to trees (photo by LG Nyqvist)

            While we praise the value of wildlife, our beloved animals also exact a cost on human needs for food, shelter and transportation. The federal agency in charge of WDM is the Wildlife Service branch of the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).  That agency estimated in 2001 that wildlife caused $944 million in damage to agricultural crops, so the figure is surely over $1 billion by now.  More than half of all farmers and ranchers reported losses from wildlife.  Most of that damage is caused by animals eating crops—a totally natural thing for both herbivores and carnivores to do.

            A more specific and particular aspect of negative human-wildlife interaction is the car-animal collision, mostly involving deer.  The National Highway Safety Administration estimates that about 1.5 million deer-related accidents occur annually, causing 175-200 human deaths, more than 10,000 injuries and over $1 billion in property damage.  The highest frequency of animal-vehicle collisions is in West Virginia, where 1 in 38 drivers is likely to hit a deer every year.  Montana, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Iowa round out the top five.

Deer-car collisions kill and injure millions of humans and deer every year (photo by NOAA Historic Coast & Geodetic Survey)

            WDM experts work mostly to reduce impacts in and around our homes.  The Wisconsin Extension Service recommends several strategies, most of which do not involve killing animals.   First, they suggest installing barriers to keep unwanted animals out—caps on chimneys, wire skirts around elevated decks, netting over berry patches.  Second, if necessary, hire a WDM expert to capture a troublesome animal and relocate it elsewhere.  Third, use repellents that animals don’t like to smell or taste, like hydrogen sulfide sprays for shrubs and flowers, or place objects outside to scare animals away. 

            But the more effective strategies are to change the way you interact with animals.  Assess your property and remove items that attract animals, like brush piles, standing water, firewood stacked against a wall, trash containers where animals can find a meal.  Plant flowers and shrubs that animals won’t eat (many lists are available).  Don’t feed animals, intentionally (e.g., putting out food for those cute furry squirrels or chipmunks) or unintentionally (using bird feeders that other animals can get into, or putting bowls of pet food outside). 

            But always remember this—if you do engage a WDM professional, the modern day Pied Piper of Hamelin, be sure to pay her!

References:

Caryl-Sue.  2014.  Jul 22, 1376 CE:  Ratcatcher’s Day.  National Geographic Resource Library.  Available at:  https://www.nationalgeographic.org/thisday/jul22/ratcatchers-day/.  Accessed March 30, 2020. 

Craven, Scott and David Drake.  2012.  An Introduction to Wildlife Damage Management.  Wisconsin Extension Service.  Available at:  http://wildlifedamage.uwex.edu/pdf/Introduction.pdf.  Accessed March 30, 2020. 

Dalbey, Beth.  2019.  Deer Collisions Across The U.S.:  The Odds of Hitting Animals.  Patch, Oct 3, 2019.  Available at:  https://patch.com/us/across-america/deer-collisions-across-u-s-odds-hitting-animals. Accessed March 30, 2020. 

Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management.  What is Wildlife Damage Management (WDM)?  Available at:  http://icwdm.org/. Accessed March 30, 2020. 

US Department of Agriculture.  2012.  Managing Wildlife Damage to Crops and Aquaculture.  Available at:  https://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/informational_notebooks/2012/Protecting_Agriculture_combined.pdf. Accessed March 30, 2020. 

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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