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Skunks - Prevention and Solutions

Ahhh, if only all skunks were as loveable as Pepe Le Pew, right? However, Pepe Le Pewthe reality is they are not. Skunks living in America are not a new thing. They have been here longer than the buildings we live in. Their populations may thin out for a few years, and then explode back up for a couple generations. Weather conditions, such as mild winters, can change their habits and contribute to them breeding twice a year at times.

Skunks can be beneficial at times. They tend to eat a lot of wasps, bees, crickets, beetles, and beetle larvae (grubs). They are useful in thinning populations of small rodents such as mice and voles. When they can’t find living creatures, they do eat carrion and even fruits and vegetables. But oh, that smell. It is something no one can ever forget.

Skunks like to live out of sight. Their habitats are usually located around empty fields, forests and railway tracks. But, when these areas are not supplying them with enough food or shelter, skunks will branch out into neighborhoods. They like to hunt at night, but will come out during daylight hours if they cannot find enough food. The neighborhood at night is their grocery store, but every once in awhile they need to pop out to the gas station in the daytime for a bag of chips. 

Trapping is not an effective way of dealing skunks. Removing all of the skunks from a neighborhood, village or county is an impossible task and can greatly affect the ecosystem. Removing the species will only bring in other critters from outside and cause an explosion of the insect population. With them come different diseases and larger problems. The Village of Vernon Hills encourages public education when dealing with all wild animals. While the animals travel all around scavenging for food, there are a few things you as a homeowner can do to keep them out of your own yard.

What you can do 

1) First and foremost, control the grubs and insects in your lawn. Since there is next to no rodent population in Vernon Hills, bugs are their #1 source of protein. You may start to notice little holes dug up in your grass. That is the skunks looking for grubs. Every home improvement store sells a pesticide that is not harmful to animals or the environment. It comes in pellet form that you spread like you would fertilizer. If you use a landscaping service, ask them
specifically to use this pesticide. Don't just assume that they will. If you close your grocery store, they will have no reason to come to your house. Strongly encourage your neighbors to do this as well.

2) Keep other food sources out of their reach. Clean up around your bar-b-cue area. Close your garbage cans tightly. Fence in your vegetable gardens and pick up any fruit or acorns that might fall from trees. Limit and maintain the amount of bird feeders you have. The spilled bird food is a meal for them. If your children go outside and eat a sandwich or a baggie of Cheerios, clean up after them.

3) Identify and close up possible dens around your house. Wood piles, hollow logs, holes under door stoops, gaps below decks, sheds that do not get much use and even behind bushes can all be prime nesting spaces for wild animals. Skunks will inevitably displace other animals that have made a den for themselves. So even if you find a home of cute little bunnies living in your yard, get them out. They may be adorable, but a skunk will likely take the space over and might even kill the bunnies to boot.

4) Skunks can find a way to make a home anywhere the size of a tennis ball. They are incredible diggers. Not sure if there may be a skunk living there? Spread flour around the area and look for paw prints the next morning. If you find you have gaps under your deck, close them up at night when the skunks are hunting for food. Gravel works however it might just be a temporary solution if they really like the home. Just to be safe, you should countersink boards at minimum of 6 inches below ground so that the animals cannot dig underneath it.  

5) Consider using a repellent:

MothballsThere are commercial grade repellents available for sale, however they can get pricey. The best substance to drive away animals is good old mothballs. Place these around any area you believe the skunk may be active. You should not put them in areas where ventilation will bring the odors into your house. If you are concerned about pets eating them, place them in old sweat socks. To use them in your garden, put them in a sealed plastic container with many holes punched in it. A good suggestion is to put them out behind bushes and by woodpiles even if you don't have skunks as a preventative measure to discourage them looking for a new home.      

Ammonia rags - You can also use rags soaked in common ammonia in the same fashion. Do not pour the ammonia directly into the lawn for two reasons. First it will damage the lawn. Second, it will be quick to dissipate and leave you with no protection.  

Cayenne pepper - Around your plants, fruit trees and garbage cans, spread cayenne pepper in copious amounts to keep them away. You can usually find it very cheap at most grocery and warehouse stores. To better put this into plain words, the active ingredient in the pepper spray that police carry is cayenne pepper. It won't permanently harm them, or your dog, but it will train them that they need to go elsewhere.

Others - There are non-chemical types of repellents available. Motion controlled flood lights work great. While skunks are not vampires, they do not like the light. They are also very effective in deterring criminal activity in your yard. Consider setting up a radio and tune into any talk radio channel. The voices and the light will give the animals the impression someone is out there. There are also motion sensitive lawn sprinklers available from hardware stores and online. They hook up to your hose and squirt the critters whenever they are detected.
6) When you walk at night, keep a flashlight with a strobe and keys with you and at the ready. Loudly jingling keys and flashing them with a strobe light before you get right up on them should scare them off before any encounter.  There are also free apps out there that can turn your smartphone into a blinding strobe light.  Just the same, there are apps for a siren or a hawk screeching. Hawks and owls are their number one predator aside from man. You may also wish to carry a half full water bottle and crinkle it loudly to announce your presence.

7) This may sound redundant, but don't let your dog go after them. They are more likely to spray another animal before a human. If your dog fails to detect one before you get close, reign him back in so as to not cause the skunk to overact and spray even if it is running away from you.

8) If you do get up close with one, back away slowly. Do not panic. Skunks do not want confrontation and don’t want to spray you.  They will spray only when they are threatened and cannot retreat in time or if they are defending their young. When they have time to warn you, they will get low to the ground, growl, stomp their paws and raise their tail. If you don’t back off, they will turn around to spray. Their spray can go up to 15 feet, so put a whole lot of distance between you and them.

9) Residents are not permitted to trap and/or kill skunks without a license (state law 520 ILCS 5)Poisons are indiscriminate and can kill a neighbors pet. Use of any firearm or any projectile weapon (BB Gun, air soft pistol, bow & arrow…) is against the law.

10) Residents are not encouraged to put out food or otherwise harbor skunks. By definition, an animal "owner" means any person having a right of property in an animal, or who keeps or harbors an animal, or who has it in his care, or acts as it's custodian. State law 510 ILCS 5/2.16).  Feeding or otherwise caring for skunks is prohibited under Local Ordinance Sec.4-7.

If a skunk has sprayed

If you are trying to get rid of the scent on a pet or a surface that has been sprayed, tomato juice does not work as well as you think. Instead, try mixing this:

1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide
1/4 cup baking soda 
1 teaspoon liquid dishwashing soap (Dawn)

Wear rubber gloves. Use immediately, and outdoors, if at all possible, to keep the volatile skunk spray out of your house. Rinse after five minutes and repeat if needed. Warning: Do not store this mixture! Use it immediately after mixing. If left in a closed container, the oxygen gas released could make the container burst. This mixture can bleach fur and hair color. Clothes or other fabric items sprayed directly may be best thrown away. Fabric that picked up the smell indirectly, as well as buildings and similar surfaces, can be washed with one cup of liquid laundry bleach per gallon of water. (This may bleach colors.)

Trapping Services

Residents are reminded that the Village does not trap wild animals on private property. Homeowners are responsible for their own property and can hire a trapper if they so desire.

The Village does not make recommendations on trapping services. However, in an effort to assist residents in locating a trapping service we are providing the below information. All three services have previously conducted business in Vernon Hills and are familiar with the Vernon Hills area. (They are listed in alphabetical order.)

County Wildlife Control   (847) 949-5655
Illinois Wildlife Control    (815) 337-2719
JD's Wildlife Services     (847) 769-9905

Conclusion


While skunks are not fun to be with, they are here to stay. Learning to live with them is necessary, for us and for them. If you want to learn more, here are two sites worth checking out:

http://www.dnr.state.il.us/orc/wildlife/furbearers/striped_skunk.htm
http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/skunks/tips/solving_problems_skunks.html