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5199 E. Pacific Coast Hwy. #608
Post Office Box 15679
Long Beach California, 90815-0679
Phone: (562) 597-8000
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Feature Stories

Nothing Funny About These Skunks

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 20
10/4/2013


By Kirt Ramirez

The Pepé Le Pew cartoon character portrayed skunks with humor, but there’s nothing funny about real-life skunks that can damage the lawn and spray a smelly liquid.

Though Le Pew was French, skunks are not found in Europe unless they are kept as a pet or abandoned in the wild.

There was a time in England when it was popular to keep skunks as pets after surgically removing the scent glands at an early age. However, the country reportedly banned such surgeries in 2007 and the fad faded.

Headlines were made in 2009 when a colony of wild skunks was found in an English countryside, which were believed to be abandoned former pets or the offspring thereof.

Skunks are native to the Americas, the Philippines and Indonesia. North America – which includes French Canada – has the largest amount of skunks, with clusters in areas of Central and South America as well.

Long Beach has lots of them. They come out at night and walk through the streets and parks looking for food.

One Long Beach resident struggled with a skunk for weeks before resolving the problem.

The resident spent this past summer caring for the lawn – giving it special attention – and it turned a lush green color. He noticed holes started appearing over a section of grass in the backyard. The resident suspected it was either a skunk or an opossum that was doing this.

In the middle of a night, the resident stepped outside and witnessed the digging offender in action: A skunk.

He tried different repellent techniques but nothing worked. Long Beach Animal Control suggests on its website mixing castor oil, dish soap and water, and applying the mixture to the grounds to repel skunks and other animals. The skunk made more holes even after this was applied.

A friend recommended a canister of “Critter Ridder,” which contains oil of black pepper, capsaicin and similar undesirable ingredients. It’s supposed to repel skunks, groundhogs, dogs, cats, squirrels, chipmunks and raccoons, according to the bottle. The skunk dug more holes and made the grass much worse, again, after the entire product was applied.

The skunk was destroying the lawn.

The City of Sacramento suggested an ammonia station – a dish of ammonia with a rag in it. The smell would repel all types of animals. The dish was placed near the back gate, but the skunk passed right by it and entered the backyard as usual.

A landlord recommended spraying the skunk with ammonia directly from a distance – as skunks can spray up to 10 feet. The skunk first stamped its feet before turning the rear-end at the resident – but did not spray. It takes a lot to get a skunk to spray, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

The skunk ran away but returned a few days later.

It appeared the best way to keep the skunk out of the yard would be to make changes to the back fence and gate, which all along was up above the ground.

The underneath openings were filled with rock and dirt. This appeared to resolve the issue – since skunks do not climb, but walk on the ground.

The skunk dug out an area and entered the yard despite the efforts, but a brick was placed in that spot and the skunk did not return.

“A problem skunk is not something you can turn your nose up at,” said Kevin Brennan, wildlife biologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Brennan said the state forbids trapping and relocating of skunks or any wild animal. Relocating is inhumane, as the animal will struggle to survive and likely die – often killed by another animal.
“Keep in mind, relocation is euphemism for animal abandonment,” Brennan said.

However, the state allows “trap and release” but the animal must be released in the immediate area – the same neighborhood, Brennan said, citing the Fish and Game Codes. In other words, a skunk can be trapped in the backyard and released in the front yard. In this case the skunk or wild animal would likely return.

With exception to rodents, it is illegal to poison wildlife. Skunks are native, nongame, fur-bearing mammals protected by the state. Unlike a squirrel or rat, a skunk is not classified as a rodent.
Opossums, pigeons and the red fox are examples of animals that are not native and thus, have no rights, Brennan confirmed.

A skunk can be killed under “trap and take” (“take” means kill) but the killing must be done by legal means, such as lethal injection by a trained person or agency. And the reason must be very good, such as damaging property or crops.

Meanwhile, aside from repellents, the health of the lawn should be looked at, as skunks often look for grubs – a type of insect – which feed on the roots of some grass.

Restore lawn health with proper seed for the climate, aerate, don’t overwater and identify insects in the lawn and treat them naturally, said Matt Meshriy, Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“A lot of times chemicals and pesticides can damage the lawn further,” he said, adding that U.C. Davis discourages the use of pesticides and encourages integrated pest management. To learn more about the Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, people can visit: www.ipm.ucdavis.edu

kirt@longbeachcomber.com