A Brief History of the Nuisance Wildlife Control Industry


12.21.2020 - Author: Philip J. Nichols

Nuisance wildlife control (NWC) evolved from government animal damage control (ADC.) Federal ADC programs in the western US targeted predators, mainly coyotes, preying on livestock within vast expanses of ranchland. Bear, mountain lion, bobcat, wolf, badger and fox were also causing problems to a lesser extent. The Department of Agriculture paid individual trappers to hunt and trap when and where predation caused significant financial problems. This program started in 1885 and is on-going.

Low level wildlife problems to homeowners were addressed (poorly) by State Game Commision law enforcement employees. The approach was to lend a cage trap to the homeowner, then take away any animals captured. This service was directed at problems caused by groundhogs, raccoons, skunks, opossums...any animal that could be captured in a cage trap. The warden may or may not show up to remove a captured animal depending on case load. This duty was often delegated to the new guy, or as minor punishment. No relief was offered to problems outside of this narrow scope, such as bat or snake infestations. Deer damage was addressed by giving culling permits to farmers having deer problems. The Game Commission did however, eagerly trap and relocate problem bears, to much fanfare. This generated media attention and positive publicity.

In the early 1980's, the Pennsylvania Game Commission phased out their involvement with domestic wildlife problems, much to the relief of the officers charged with dealing with these problems. A permit program was established whereby a trapper could purchase a permit allowing him to operate outside of seasons and bag limits imposed on hunters and fur trappers, and to charge a fee for providing a service to address any and all wildlife complaints. Other states followed suit, kicking off a new cottage industry.

This new industry had only one media source for information...The Probe...started in September 1979, was the newsletter for the Animal Damage Control (ADC) Association. Directed towards the federal trappers doing the work described in the first paragraph, it eventually did have articles featuring urban nuisance wildlife control. The first publication unique to the NWC industry was Wildlife Control Technology magazine (WCT) started by Rob Erickson in 1982. WCT is host to an annual training seminar in Las Vegas, that started in 1995 and continues to this day. Vendors at these informational and training seminars display new gear, software, and products for the NWC business such as insurance.

Until 1983, most NWC operators had come from the ranks of fur trappers, and made modest part time incomes. These were “good ‘ole boys”, proficient at trapping, but sorely lacking the skills needed to run a full time business for profit, but a few did just that against the odds. Some of these pioneers eventually went under as many businesses of any kind do. But a few did go on to great success.

In 1983, Kevin founded Critter Control, a franchise company, under which the franchisee owned their franchise to do NWC work under the Critter Control umbrella. Mr. Clark was not a trapper, but was keen on marketing. He recognized and seized on the potential of this budding industry to be. Along with the franchise, he was the first to sell products used by NWC operators, and published a newsletter. Critter Control and their marketing efforts had a profound effect on fur trappers who knew in their soul that this work was their purpose in life, realizing that there was a way to leverage their trapping skills into a career, with Critter Control providing practical business expertise.

In 1993, the first book devoted to NWC was published. The Wildlife Pest Control Handbook (Philip J. Nichols) targeted fur trappers who thirsted for information, and encouraged them to think about the NWC business. Other books followed and soon the National Wildlife Control Operators Association was founded. Academia was taking notice. The first symposium was at the University of Kentucky (First Eastern NWCO Short Course) in February, 1994. A host of NWCO seminars and courses followed-Clemson, Penn State, the University of South Carolina, and Perdue all got into the game.

The NWCO ranks grew rapidly, and states began to regulate with laws, protocols and restrictions. NWC needed a voice and the National Wildlife Control Operators Association (NWCOA) was founded in the late 1990's, followed by individual state associations. These associations partnered with state regulatory boards to negotiate regulations and protocols for NWC. The associations also offered training and certification for the unique skill sets needed for evolving NWC work. Examples of these skills and kinds of jobs:

  • Injecting wild animals with the correct dose of a sedative using a dart gun, and safe handling of the sedated animal.
  • Keep airport runways clear of birds using falconry. Keep animals off runways.
  • Excluding a bat colony from a structure at the right time using non-lethal, humane methods.
  • Removing wildlife from sites scheduled for demolition, i.e. hazardous waste, abandoned buildings, etc.
  • Permanently resolving flooding problems caused by beaver dams, e.g. commercial tree farm.
  • Remove and relocate snakes causing problems in and around a sensitive area, e.g. daycare center, medical clinic, etc.
  • Reduce a deer herd in a populated area by night culling. - Contract with municipalities to handle wildlife problems. - Handling a rabid animal, and following rabies protocols for testing.
  • Harass nuisance canada geese with border collie.
  • Feral hog, feral domestic cat trapping
  • Trapping and control of fox, coyote, beaver, raccoon, groundhog, squirrel (red, grey, flying,) skunk and snake.
  • Trapping and control of moles, voles, shrews and other small rodents.

NWC work alone is profitable, but additional profit is added on when the animal causes damage by chewing, scratching, urinating and defecating. Repair of this damage to structures is an easy sell. Just a few examples of the add-on skills taught at seminars and short courses:

  • Repair soffit, fascia, roof and siding damaged by squirrel, woodpecker, raccoon, etc.
  • Remove and replace insulation contaminated with (hazardous) animal waste.
  • Install chimney cap, repair chimney crown, install chimney liner. - Install barriers to permanently exclude burrowing animals.

A reality TV program in 2011 highlighted Ned and his Oklahoma NWC business "the Skunk Whisperer." This yearlong series was a huge hit ...NWC was now mainstream.

Technology for NWC operators before cell phones consisted of a pager and a pocket full of quarters. Prior to search engines such as Google, the potential customer used the yellow pages to find an NWC service. The call with an urgent critter problem was then relayed to the field operator's pager, who then went to the nearest payphone to make the sale. Timing was crucial..an “urgent” problem tended to become less urgent with time, or was taken care of by a competitor.

Cell phones ushered in a new paradigm as the customer could now talk directly with the NWC operator. Search engines replaced the yellow pages. A new tool for NWC operators was invented by David of AAAnimal Control who set up a computerized nationwide referral service that directed incoming calls to the NWC operators subscribed to the network.

What does the future hold? There is a trend towards consolidating NWC with invertebrate pest control companies. With the rollout of the 5G network, to be completed nationwide by 2025, there will be a fast, direct link to the “internet of things,” which now has 25 billion things. Some “things” are used by business and industry to provide solutions, control processes and monitor systems. The NWC operator might monitor and control a remote trapping system using real time data to see and respond to an event. Coupled with self driving vehicles, drones, robotics and new trapping gear, the possibilities are endless.

Oh, and the network providers are already working on 6G with a projected rollout in 2030. 6G would allow nationwide driverless vehicles that communicate with each other to plan route efficiency. Virtual reality and mixed reality will be common. Information will be gathered everywhere from the outer limit of earth's atmosphere to the deepest oceanic trench. All inclusive pest control will consolidate every aspect of making structures, homes, even outdoor spaces, free from insects, reptiles, birds, animals and whatever else emerges as noxious, annoying or in need of exclusion. This concept is now called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and will be taken to a whole new level, from being a major topic of study on the university level, to practical implementation by that generation. There will be but few fur trappers in these ranks, but on some level, they will know of their roots.

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