Scott Lindsay is a wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. He’s in the department’s Sebago Lake Region, which includes about 100 towns and “pretty much all kinds of Maine wildlife.” We’d called him up to talk about his work but we confess, we did have a very specific question to ask that’s practical, ethical and at this season, timely. Say we’ve trapped a skunk or raccoon in our yard. What should we do with it? Lindsay gave us that answer, filled us in on some reasons why moving a bear isn’t a great idea and told us how home repairs could make our original question moot.

ON THE JOB: Lindsay is a Massachusetts native who came to Maine to study at the University of Maine in Farmington and was happy to land a position with Inland Fisheries & Wildlife in 2000. Although before joining the department full time (he’d worked on some projects for them in his student days), he spent two years in Montana and loved that too; “I can tell you once I got out there I could have easily stayed.” A key part of his job is negotiating the interface between humans and wildlife. While Maine is not even remotely a heavily populated state, the potential for unwanted animal-human interactions is still high, Lindsay says. “We do spend quite a bit of time trying to resolve these situations.” What’s the top priority in these situations? “Our highest priority in any of these situations is to work with landowners to try to find a way to minimize the problems being caused by the wildlife without intervening by catching the wildlife.” That could mean a discussion of say, one’s soffits or trim boards.

TOUGH ON SOFFITS: Wait, what? It’s a matter of access, Lindsay explains. If there’s a spot for the animals, be it squirrel, bat, skunk or what have you, to gain entry to the walls or cellar or attic – or under a deck or porch – the first priority should be shutting off access, rather than moving the animal. “If you don’t combine that with solving the problem, it is just a matter of time before some other animal gets in.” His department also works with homeowners to “identify any sources of attraction at that house for the wildlife.” We’re talking bird feeders, compost heaps, grills with last night’s dinner baked on and smelling appealing. Or a tree that hangs so close to the house that a squirrel can practically step from tree to roof.

MOVING DAY: A homeowner with a skunk in a trap has two options. Kill it or move it. Most tend to go with the latter choice, he said. “It has been my observation that often, a landowner is going to feel very good about moving it, like they are doing the right thing.” They have a rosy vision of the animal’s future. He gets why people decide to relocate the animals, even though it’s highly discouraged by wildlife biologists. “Most people do like wildlife, and they do think it is a better outcome.” As an animal lover, Lindsay wishes people would go beyond considering just the individual animal they’ve moved instead of killed to also thinking about how it will fare in that new environment. Because you’re making a change to the ecosystem.

THE ODDS: While it is obviously true that being dead is not nearly as good an outcome as being moved, Lindsay said such animals have only a 50 to 60 percent chance of surviving a shift to new territory, where they don’t know how to find food and where they may encounter more predators or more competitors for the space. “About 50 to even 75 percent of them might die,” he said.

WHEN YOU PUT IT THAT WAY: The stress on an animal that is relocated is no small consideration, Lindsay said. “Say if I went into your home and all of a sudden I said, ‘You are going to to come with me, we are going to move you, you are creating a problem here, so I am going to take you three towns away and leave you on the front steps of someone’s house.’ ” And more than that, most animals are going to make a quick decision, he said, and that is to flee.

HOMEWARD BOUND: Like the bear he once relocated all the way up by the Quebec border. “Within a week it came back to the area where we had relocated it from. That must have been a distance of some 100 miles. They have a very, very strong ability to find locations.” That traveling bear ended up dead at a hunter’s hands. After all these years on the job, Lindsay said he has come around to thinking that it is far better for everybody if his department can find a way for the landowner to live with the bear in the ‘hood. He and his colleagues would rather move the bear to somewhere else in the neighborhood and then “haze” it a bit, with noise, hit it with some rubber bullets, fire off some pyrotechnics and maybe even “some hound dogs barking nearby.” Bears are scared of dogs, typically.

THE BIRDS AND THE BEARS: Some advice for landowners who live near woods? One of the best ways to attract a bear is to put up bird feeders. So take them down in early April, as Lindsay does and put them back up again in November. In the spring, those birdies are going to be just fine, he said. And they’re the lucky ones; no one minds having them around.

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MaryPols

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: