Urban Wildlife Pests: When the Fence is Not Enough

We all like the sight of deer and birds when we’re on a nature walk, but when they’re eating the flowers and vegetables that we’ve spent hours planting and tending, sometimes we’d like to shoot them, or maybe pour some of Granny’s “animal potion” on the plants they’re eating. But when you’re in the confines of a small square lot in the middle of the city, what’s legal?

It depends on what state you’re in, and it depends on what animal is in your yard. Some laws are national, such as the Migratory Bird Act, which prohibits the hunting, trapping or killing of migratory birds, including the nuisance Canada geese (although many of them don’t migrate anymore, it’s still illegal to shoot or trap them).

Beaver damage

Beaver problem on the Lonnie Poole Golf Course

For the most part, wildlife require three things: food, water and shelter. While the animals are on their own with the last two, most of us unwittingly provide the first requirement anytime we plant flowers, greenery or fruits and vegetables. As willing as you might be to share a small portion of your bounty with the wildlife, the animals don’t typically return the favor, leaving you with rows of nipped-off lettuce or flowerless stalks.

However, before you use that special potion that your great-aunt used to whip up to chase away raccoons, buy some coyote urine from the local hardware store or put up a 350-volt electric fence around your vegetable garden, you may want to check with your state wildlife enforcement associations. In every state, for every animal, there are legal—and not so legal—ways to keep wildlife from setting up camp in your yard. When you call, you’ll want to tell them exactly what animal has been doing the damage. And if you haven’t seen the animal, it’s harder to know what it is. This multi-state website has a great primer on how to be an “animal damage detective.”

Some general tips from North Carolina’s wildlife enforcement agency include:

  • If an animal is posing an imminent threat, you can legally shoot it. An imminent threat includes having an animal chase a pet, child, or charge a fence while someone is outside in the yard. Shooting an animal because it is in your yard is NOT legal.
  • If you are in an area where you cannot discharge a firearm, you may be able to trap the animal with a special permit. Check your state for procedures.
  • It is illegal to relocate an animal to a park, lake or other natural area. Check your state laws to see what relocation rights you have.
  • If there is an open food source on your property that is enticing an animal, it is illegal to kill or trap the animal. Open food sources include bird feeders, uncovered garbage cans, etc. (not gardens)
  • Some products that may work include PlotSaver, bird netting, a motion-sensor water hose, and Mylar balloons (for birds). Poisoning an animal is illegal.
  • A homeowner can request a state or federal permit to get rid of a federally-protected animal, such as a migratory bird. You must have a permit to trap or kill a federally-protected animal.

Below are several state resources that give suggestions and do’s and don’ts about how homeowners can keep wildlife out of their yards. When you’re reading through the resources for your state, keep in mind the keyword “management.” If your state is not listed, call your state’s wildlife resources office of the agency in your state that handles wildlife enforcement.

You probably will never be able to keep every deer or squirrel out of your yard, but if you can make food acquisition more difficult, you may be able to enjoy more of your harvest or bouquet than you would have otherwise.


New York:

North Carolina:



One Response

  1. Good article!! I liked those tips on keeping away that wildlife from your farm.

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