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

September 1
Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, Died (1914)
September 2
President Roosevelt Dedicated Great Smoky National Park (1940)
September 3
Wilderness Act passed (1964)
September 4
Fort Bragg, Home of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Established (1918)
September 5
UNESCO Established First World Heritage Sites (1978)
September 6
Alcide d’Orbigny, French Naturalist, Born (1802)
September 7
Edward Birge, Father of Limnology, born (1851)
September 8
UN Millennium Declaration ratified (2000)
September 9
First “Bug” Found in Computer (1945)
September 10
Henry Hardtner, Father of Southern Forestry, Born (1870)
September 11
World Wildlife Fund Began Operations (1961)
September 12
Canyonlands National Park Established (1964)
September 13
Walter Reed born (1851)
September 14
Marc Reisner, Author of Cadillac Desert (1948)
September 15
Darwin reaches the Galapagos Islands (1835)
September 16
Ed Begley Jr., Environmental Advocate, born (1949)
September 17
Edgar Wayburn, Wilderness Advocate, Born (1906)
September 18
Grey Owl, Pioneering Conservationist in Canada, Born (1888)
September 19
Urmas Tartes, Estonian Nature Photographer, born (1963)
September 20
AAAS Founded (1848)
September 21
Assateague Island National Seashore Created (1965)
September 22
Peace Corps becomes law (1961)
September 23
Rose Selected as U.S. National Flower (1986)
September 24
President Kennedy Dedicated Pinchot Institute (1963)
September 25
Pope Francis Addressed the UN on the Environment (2015)
September 26
Johnny Appleseed Born (1774)
September 27
“Silent Spring” Published (1962)
September 28
National Public Lands Day
September 29
Steinhart Aquarium opens (1923)
September 30
Hoover Dam Dedicated (1935)
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