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Don't Let Your Yard Become a Wildlife Sanctuary

This is the second of a two-part series about the growing wildlife population in Fairfield County, and the intrusion of wildlife in your neighborhood.

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — Animal advocates and hunters disagree about the best way to control wildlife intruders that find their way into your backyard.

But animal advocates, hunters and wildlife experts agree that development encroaches on wildlife habitats, forcing many species to venture into the suburbs to seek food and shelter. And now deer, coyotes, fox, raccoons and even turkeys have adapted so well that they have decided to move in — permanently.

“It’s probably something we’re going to have to get used to. It’s not going to change any time soon,” said Mark Clavette, supervising wildlife biologist for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “Wildlife has adapted to living with us. Now we’re going have to adapt to living with them.”

Still, most wildlife experts and sportsmen’s groups say hunting is the best way to keep the wildlife population from growing to unmanageable levels.

“Absolutely, there’s no other method. Shooting with darts and chemicals hasn’t worked, and it’s far too expensive anyway,” said Robert Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen's Clubs, which has about 40,000 members and is the only lobbying group for hunters in Connecticut.

“Hunting is the least costly way to control expansion of wild animals, in general. And the fact is, if it weren’t for hunters, the state would have to spend an awful lot more money for sharpshooters instead,” said Crook. “We (hunters) pay license fees and spend our own money on equipment – about $500 a year per hunter — to do the state’s work."

Too many animals and overdevelopment have decimated forests, Crook said. “Animals can’t live unless they have food, shelter and water. And some of the forests are ecological deserts, so we’re interested in maintaining and improving forestry, too.”

John Hannan, director of development for Audubon in Connecticut in Greenwich, agreed, saying the most effective way to control the problem is by hunting. Hannan said many conservation groups long opposed to hunting are now partnering with bowhunting associations to thin deer populations.

“Hunting is still the most cost-effective and widely used strategy to reduce herds,” Hannan said. “While it may seem cruel to some, it is more humane than having deer starve to death because they have eaten themselves and other wildlife out of food. We have found some deer that are much thinner than they should be, which is evidence there just isn’t enough food for them all.”

But Laura Simon, Connecticut field director of the urban wildlife program of the Humane Society of the United States, says there are better solutions to deer conflicts than hunting.

“The problem is, it (hunting) won’t solve the problem where it needs to be fixed, in people’s backyards,” said Simon.

“Planting flowers that deer don’t like, using effective repellents and putting up proper netting and fencing is much more effective than trying to shoot out all the deer in your neighborhood,” she said.

Deer can easily adapt to a suburban environment and also have a higher reproduction rate when hunted, Simon said.

Forest restoration is key to keep deer from coming into urban areas. Fertilization and cutting the canopy to allow more light would enhance forest growth.

For those who enjoy having deer and other wildlife in their backyards, Simon recommends the use of birdfeeders and says homeowners should take precautions – such as sealing holes and capping chimneys – to keep wildlife outside.

Wildlife experts who do encourage homeowners to keep wildlife away have the following suggestions:

• Do not feed, touch or adopt wild animals or stray dogs and cats. Enjoy wild animals from a distance.

• Be sure your pets are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations. Vaccinated pets serve as a buffer between rabid wildlife and people.

• Don’t attract wild animals to your home or yard. Keep your property free of stored birdseed or other food that may attract wild animals. Feed pets indoors. Tightly cap and secure garbage cans.

• Report all animal bites or contact with wild animals to your town’s animal control division.

• If a wild animal is on your property, let it wander away. You can also contact a nuisance wildlife control officer, who can remove the animal for a fee.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify the position of Laura Simon and The Humane Society of the United States.

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