With many community associations being built within wooded areas, or on the sites of former farms, it seems that the presence of wildlife is more common within these communities. Some residents and managers see deer as a nuisance when they gobble up expensive landscaping, and foxes may instill a level of fear in those who unexpectedly come in close proximity to them, such as when taking out the trash or going to their mailbox.
We spoke with Kathleen Kerwin — a program associate for the Wildlife Conservation and Management Program at Rutgers University, located in New Brunswick, New Jersey — to explore the best practices for managing wildlife issues within communities.
Kerwin first suggests a preventative approach. “The first thing to do would be to prevent any sort of issues from happening,” she said, which entails managing the property in a way that makes it less attractive to wildlife. This can mean securing garbage, not feeding wildlife and ensuring homes are properly sealed.
“If you take these steps, the goal would be that wildlife co-exist peacefully [within a community], without causing any damage,” Kerwin said.
In the case that an animal is posing a nuisance to a community, Kerwin has found that, “If you take away that food source, or take away the place that they were sleeping, the animal will typically move on.”
In the rare case that an animal may pose a threat or danger to residents, Kerwin suggested that managers call their local animal control officer as soon as possible. “If you do see an animal that is acting strange, aggressive, or what some people describe as ‘appearing drunk’ or ‘wobbly,’ that is a case that you should call animal control or the local police right away,” Kerwin said.
However, Kerwin noted that it is actually very rare to encounter a dangerous animal, or an animal who is infected with rabies. “A lot of times people think that if you see an animal out during the day that they must have rabies, but that is not true,” she said.
From deer and foxes, to bats and bears, we have highlighted a few of the most common animals sighted within community associations, as well as the best practices for avoiding damage and danger caused by those animals.
“Unfortunately a hungry deer is going to eat almost anything that you plant,” said Kerwin.
There are some plants that have been recognized as being deer resistant, including poisonous plants such as daffodils and poppies, and fragrant plants such as sages and lavender.
“Maybe these plants will not be a deer’s first choice, but again if they are really hungry, they are going to eat basically anything,” Kerwin said.
According to Kerwin, the most effective way to prevent deer from eating plants is to build a fence. Because deer can jump very high, this would mean putting up an 8-foot-tall fence. “If you had a very high value area, such as a garden, that may be worth putting up a fence around,” Kerwin explained. “You could also put up wire caging around trees to protect against bucks who rub their antlers against trees.”
For communities that are located in areas that are highly populated by deer, the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife established the Community-Based Deer Management Permit program. The program “allows for lethal methods that are not typically permitted under the regular hunting regulations,” according to Kerwin. Permits may allow for longer hunting seasons, an increase in the number of hunting permits issued, or incentives for hunters to harvest more antler-less deer.
“If you see a fox, there is really no need to be alarmed,” explained Kerwin, who said to simply respect the fox and give the animal space. “Fox are innately scared of people, so they should run away when they see you,” she added.
According to Kerwin, fox are great for reducing rodent populations. “Rodents are obviously a pest species and they can also contribute Lyme disease, so having fox around can be a good thing,” she said.
Some fox may prey upon smaller pets, “especially if you have chickens or rabbits,” Kerwin said. “Make sure that your pets are protected, but generally attacks on pets are pretty rare.”
In terms of rabies, “It is super rare that a fox would have any illness like that,” said Kerwin, who noted that only six New Jersey foxes were reported as having rabies in 2018, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.
“Most wildlife are very scared of people,” explained Kerwin. “There are very rare causes of, for example, a black bear becoming aggressive. In that case, call for help as soon as you can.”
In the case that you encounter a black bear and cannot immediately call for help, Kerwin suggested: “Don’t run away. Make yourself look big and make a lot of noise,” until the animal runs away.
Often seeking shelter in man-made structures, bats are known for invading attics, basements and other areas of the home.
“Most people probably wouldn’t know if they had bats living in their home, because it is probably not affecting them in any way,” Kerwin explained. “But, if the bat has gotten into a living space, it can become an issue.”
According to Kerwin, the only way to get rid of bats is to exclude them. This means installing a one-way device for at least one week to allow the bats to exit but not re-enter a space. “Bats are only entering holes that already exist. So if you can close those up, they wouldn’t be able to get back inside,” she said.
The NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife sets “safe dates” when such exclusions can be performed—typically April 1 to April 30 and August 1 to October 15. “This protects bats during the breeding season and hibernation,” Kerwin said. She recommends that associations use a wildlife control company with experience performing bat exclusions.
The Wildlife Conservation and Management Program at Rutgers also runs a Bat House Distribution Program, a program that builds bat houses to offer bats an “alternative place to live after they have been kicked out of their home.”
“The best place to put [a bat house] is actually right onto [a resident’s] house. It seems counterintuitive, but that is where we have the most success,” said Kerwin, who noted that bats are some of the most beneficial animals for humans.
In spring months, it is not uncommon for a homeowner to spot a snapping turtle in their garden, when females begin to leave the water to lay their eggs.
“It can be very alarming to see a giant snapping turtle digging up your garden, but we recommend just leaving that nest alone. The eggs will hatch and the babies will make their way to the water. As long as you give them space and respect it, there is never really an issue,” Kerwin explained.