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Trappers catch nuisance critters
Nuisance wildlife a growing problem as Fredericksburg region develops; local trapper among those providing help

 Coffee cleans and stretches a beaver pelt. Coffee's Wildlife Removal is one of several local companies that remove nuisance animals.
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Date published: 1/13/2013

By RUSTY DENNEN

Jim Slater, owner of Slater Farm in King George County, noticed that deer and turkey had become scarce on his land adjoining Machodoc Creek.

Several of his sons who hunt there reported seeing and hearing coyotes, Slater said in an interview last week.

"I'm convinced the coyotes drove them off the property," said Slater, 80, who grows peaches, apples and Christmas trees on 60 acres.

While he was considering what to do, Bill Coffee, a licensed trapper who lives in Spotsylvania County, stopped by the farm to ask Slater for permission to do some trapping.

As they got to talking, Coffee told Slater he also removes nuisance wildlife, including coyotes.

"I told him I'd put out some traps for [them] and see what we get," Coffee said as he stopped by this week to check about 20 traps set around the property east of U.S. 301.

Though Slater's farm sits in a relatively rural setting, wildlife and homeowners are increasingly at odds across the state, according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

The agency maintains a list of licensed trappers and others who remove unwanted critters for a fee. More than a dozen work in the Fredericksburg area.

"We get a lot of calls on nuisance wildlife," said Sgt. Ryan Shuler, a conservation law enforcement officer with VDGIF's Fredericksburg office.

Beavers, which gnaw trees and dam up streams, and garden-loving groundhogs generate a lot of the calls, he says.

"This spring, we had a higher-than-average number of calls about groundhogs in Stafford," Shuler said. It's not clear why.

WILD AND WORRISOME

His office averages about 10 nuisance wildlife calls a month. Game wardens don't handle them, so homeowners can opt to deal with the problem themselves, turn to a professional removal service, or explore other non-lethal options, such as preventative measures.

"Beavers are my biggest complaint," said Coffee, 58, who took up trapping in 2003 and founded Coffee's Wildlife Removal in 2006. "They dam up streams and flood farmers' fields or backyards."

One woman called him after she saw beavers chewing down several ornamental cherry trees that had cost her $150 each.


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The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries lists the following as nuisance species: the house mouse, Norway rat, black rat, coyote, groundhog, nutria (a relative of the muskrat), feral hog, European starling, English sparrow, mute swan and pigeon.

These can be shot on sight, any time of year, except Sundays, on private property. A bill has been introduced in the General Assembly to allow the taking of those animals on Sundays.

The killing of other animals--white-tail deer and beavers, for example, that destroy property or crops--is allowed by permit if other options fail.

For The Humane Society guide, see: humanesociety.org/animals/wild_neighbors/register_communi ty_leaders_wildlife_guide.html The VDGIF list of nuisance wildlife removal providers: vdgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/nuisance/trappers The Virginia Trappers Association, virginiatrappers.org Wildlife Center of Virginia, wildlife center.org

Here's some suggestions from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to avoid problems with wildlife:

If you are feeding wildlife, stop. This will cause them to lose their natural fear of humans.

Keep trash inside until the morning of trash pickup or place trash in an animal-proof container, such as a metal trash can with latches on the lids.

Don't leave pet food outside; keep pet feeding areas clean.

Remove bird feeders when problem species, such as bears, have been seen around them.

Close up all openings under and into your buildings. Animals look for places to den and raise their young.

Clear overhanging tree limbs and branches, which may be providing wildlife access to structures.

Clear fallen fruit from around trees.