Illinois Department of Natural Resources

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Bob Bluett, 217-782-6384

CHICAGO AREA EXPERIENCES PROBLEMS
AS WILDLIFE FLOURISHES IN LESS-THAN-WILD PLACES


SPRINGFIELD, ILL. -- Conservation programs that succeeded in restoring white-tailed deer, Canada geese, beavers, and other animals are facing a new challenge as wildlife flourish in places that are less than wild.

In a survey of homeowners from 10 of the nation's largest metropolitan areas, 61 percent reported problems with wildlife during the past year. If their experiences are typical, damage in the United States' largest cities approaches $3.8 billion annually despite an outlay of $1.9 billion to prevent it.

Chicago's metro area fits this profile. Dr. Craig Miller, a human dimensions specialist formerly with the Illinois Natural History Survey, found as part of a survey he conducted that 58 percent of homeowners in five Northeastern Illinois counties had experienced wildlife problems in the past year. Canada geese, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, and skunks topped the list of culprits.

Problems serviced by animal control agencies and businesses licensed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources have more than doubled in the past decade according to Bob Bluett, wildlife diversity program manager for the agency. Last year, animal control professionals in the Chicago metro area responded to more than 65,000 service calls and captured more than 60,000 animals.

Raccoons topped the list. "They're abundant and resourceful when it comes to finding a way into peoples' homes," says Bluett.

He estimates that the state's raccoon population more than doubled between the early 1980s and mid-1990s. Bluett noted, "Hunting and trapping kept them in check when fur coats were popular during the late 1970s. Numbers boomed when the market went bust about a decade later." Markets in Russia and Asia have picked up some of the slack in recent years, with a corresponding drop of about 25 percent since Illinois' raccoon population peaked in 1996.

Raccoons are more common in the Chicago metro area than any other part of the state. Landscape changes have helped increase raccoon numbers, because years ago, green spaces, fields and woods separated towns. Trappers and hunters harvested raccoons in those wild in-between spots and kept raccoons in check. “Today, many cities run together. Those in-between wild spaces are strip malls and fast food restaurants,” says Bluett. “It is difficult to hunt and trap raccoons in ways that reduce urban populations.” Also, state laws require them to obtain permission from both landowners and people living nearby before hunting or trapping wildlife. This can be difficult to obtain.

Some trappers have parlayed their skills into lucrative animal removal businesses that operate under a different set of restrictions than their counterparts. "This activity is highly regulated, just like traditional hunting and trapping. The main difference is that we've built in accountability to the client and made some adjustments for working in residential areas," says Bluett.

Studies by Dr. Stan Gehrt, an Ohio State University research biologist, show that suburban raccoons have few worries except dodging traffic. "Food and shelter are so plentiful that many survive bouts with diseases," says Gehrt.

A study by Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation of suburban Dundee found that few raccoons captured by wildlife control specialists and released in area forest preserves decided to stay there. "Most left within two to three weeks and some were recaptured in nearby homes," says Bluett. Gehrt's studies confirm that raccoons raised in forest preserves tend to stay there. Those raised in attics and chimneys seem to prefer residential areas.

State laws were changed in 1999 to limit relocation of raccoons. Bluett noted, "Studies supported our concerns about making one person's solution another person's problem. They also suggested transporting animals could help spread diseases that can infect people, pets and other wildlife. Besides that, where do you go with 17,000 raccoons in one of the country's most urban landscapes?"

Fewer than 10 percent of raccoons captured by wildlife control specialists are released -- either on the same property or after being transported to a licensed veterinarian with a permit to rehabilitate wildlife. The rest are killed using methods allowed by state law.

Bluett notes that removing raccoons is not a viable solution unless food sources are eliminated and entry points are sealed to keep others from moving in.

DNR advises homeowners:

  • Do not encourage raccoons by feeding them
  • Keep pet food and watering dishes indoors, especially at night
  • Keep trash containers in your garage until pick-up day. Containers stored outside should be made of metal or durable plastic and kept upright in a frame; secure lids with elastic shock cords available at most hardware stores
  • Use bird feeders equipped with gravity-operated treadles to prevent access by squirrels and raccoons. Do not allow spillage to accumulate. If necessary, switch to niger (thistle), safflower, or other bird foods less attractive to mammals
  • Install commercial chimney caps before animals move in
  • Install hardware cloth (½ x ½-inch mesh) inside attic vent and fan openings
  • Repair broken, weak, or rotted areas on your roof, soffit and fascia
  • Trim tree branches that provide squirrels and raccoons easy access to your roof
  • Before hiring an animal control specialist, verify they have a valid permit issued by DNR

For more information on raccoons or controlling nuisance wildlife in Illinois, contact Illinois DNR at 217-782-6384. Learn more about raccoons by visiting the Fur Hunting and Trapping in Illinois website at dnr.state.il.us/orc/wildlife.

The brochures "Keeping Wildlife Out of Your Home" and "Nuisance Raccoons in Urban Settings" are available from the DNR Clearinghouse at dnr.clearing@illinois.gov.

Information on nuisance wildlife control also is available at the Center for Wildlife Damage Management at http://www.wildlifedamage.unl.edu/. Landowners should check state regulations before proceeding; some methods recommended by the Center for Wildlife Management, while legal in some states, are not legal in Illinois.

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