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  • Writer's pictureChelle Hartzer

An Elephant Sized Problem (AKA: Is there a size limit?)

What’s bugging you? Seriously, what’s been pestering you? Is it an actual pest? And what defines a pest? I have written about this a few times and it’s really an interesting question. One of my favorite science authors has just written a book that discusses this. Since her last name is Roach, it makes her even cooler.

Let’s go big. Many of the pests we deal with are pretty small: insects, rodents, the occasional small mammal. Roach talks about monkeys stealing her bananas. She also admits that she brought the bag of bananas because she heard that monkeys would steal them and she wanted to see it. Probably not the best idea, but we’ve got to test the scientific hypothesis right? Bigger animals are attracted to the food and habitat that humans often provide. Other larger animals are in a space that humans have encroached into.

Deer are a great example of this. Not only are we occupying the habitat that they once (and currently) are, we provide many plants and food for them that continues to attract them. I have deer in my backyard and my neighbor was fed up with them munching on his ornamental plants. So he set up a deer feeder and now feeds them twice a day. I know exactly when to look out my window to see the deer walking to his yard. Deer are definitely a pest for him and since he can’t exclude them with fencing, and he doesn’t want to plant different ornamentals, he attracts them to the back of his yard and hopes he feeds them enough that they won’t go for his plants.

Let’s talk laws. When I was in Africa this summer, I learned that elephants are pests. They will actually trample people and a local school was having kids stay home because of nearby elephants that had recently killed a few kids walking to class. Legally, killing those elephants wasn’t an option despite how much of a pest they were becoming. However, they were putting up deterrent methods and doing what they could to scare them away and protect their village and its people.

In the US, a perfect example is the Canada goose. These obnoxious miscreants birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Act of 1918. As such, they can not be harmed. If you have ever been unfortunate enough to get near a Canada goose when they are nesting, I’m hoping you came out of it relatively unscarred. Literally. Those things are mean and very aggressive. While you can typically harass these and scare them away (as long as it’s nothing physically harming), when they are nesting you can’t do ANYTHING to them. The key with this pest is timing: getting them to go somewhere else before they start nesting and getting nasty.

In an NPR interview, Roach really hit the main point of a pest management program: why are they here and what can we do to keep them out:

ROACH: Yes. When it comes to the things that we've so readily called pests, I have developed a different attitude toward them in that I will try to practice exclusion - that is, figure out, why are they nesting there? Or how are they getting in? And make them move on rather than calling the person who's going to trap them and do who knows what with them and much to my husband's chagrin because we had a roof rat run across the deck while I was working on this book. And initially I was like, oh, my God, it's a rat. We've got to get a trap. A trap is humane. It's a quick kill. It'll be OK. And I thought, listen to you, little miss coexistence. Stop that, you know? I'm like - I told my husband, I - we're going to practice exclusion. He's like, you've got one week to figure this out.

No matter what pests you are dealing with, the IPM plan should look at the underlying conditions of why a pest is there and try to deal with those factors. It isn’t easy, particularly when you have a large pest or when it is something you have limited control tools to use. The more challenging a pest and the situation, the more creative you have to be sometimes. If you’ve been dealing with a lingering (and challenging!) pest situation, we can help!

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