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Dealing with Raccoons

Posted: July 26, 2011

Have you noticed partially eaten ears of sweet corn with the husks pulled back in your garden this year? Have you heard the sound of banging garbage can lids in the middle of the night?

If so, you may be receiving nocturnal visits from raccoons.  Raccoons may cause damage or nuisance problems in a variety of ways, and their distinctive "handlike" tracks often provide evidence of their involvement in damage situations.

Conflicts between humans and raccoons are inevitable, especially as development continues and forest habitat is reduced.  Over the years, the diet of raccoons has expanded from foods found in the forest to include a number of items found around homes and farms.  Some of the new items in their diets include apples, corn, watermelon, poultry, pet food and other goodies found in our trash. 

Raccoons also can be a considerable nuisance when they roll up freshly laid sod in search of earthworms and grubs.  They may return repeatedly and roll up extensive areas of sod on successive nights.  This behavior is particularly common in mid to late summer as young raccoons are learning to forage for themselves.

While many of these problems are annoying, there is another more serious reason to be concerned.  Raccoons have been identified as the major wildlife host of rabies in the United States, primarily due to increased prevalence in the eastern United States.  Children, especially, should be warned that these animals are not pets and should not be approached.

How do you deal with a raccoon problem?  Exclusion, if feasible, is usually the best method of coping with raccoon damage.  You should remove any obvious sources of food or shelter which may be attracting the raccoons to your property.  There are no repellents, toxicants, or fumigants currently registered for raccoon control.  Although several techniques have been used to frighten away raccoons, none has been proven to be effective over a long period of time.   Landowners should contact their district Wildlife Conservation Officer through the Pennsylvania Game Commission Region Office before trapping nuisance wildlife.  Another option for dealing with nuisance wildlife is to hire a licensed wildlife pest control agent.

Electric fencing can be very effective at excluding raccoon from sweet corn or other crops.  According to Ward Upman, Kansas State University Extension Associate,

two or more wires must be used.  He recommends placing the first about 5 inches above the ground and the second 4 inches above the first or 9 inches above ground. Raccoons must not be able to crawl under, go between or go over the wires without being shocked. 

Fence posts used for electric fences work well for this application, as do the insulators used to support the electric wire.  It is much easier to use the woven electric wire with strands of wire embedded than to use a solid metal wire. The woven wire is easier to bend around corners and to roll up when done for the year.

Though both the plug-in and battery operated fencers work, the battery operated types allow more flexibility in where corn is grown. One set of batteries is usually sufficient for the season. You may also use an automotive battery if one is available. It should last at least a month if full charged and in good shape.  Start the charger before the corn is close to being ripe. Once raccoons get a taste of the corn, they are more difficult to discourage.

Control weeds near the wire. Weeds can intercept the voltage if they touch a wire and allow raccoons entry beyond where the weed grounds it.  Check the wire occasionally to make sure you have current.  There are tools that will measure the voltage.

Wrapping filament tape around ripening ears of corn or placing plastic bags over the ears is an effective method of reducing raccoon damage to sweet corn.  According to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Control (http://icwdm.org/handbook/carnivor/raccoons.asp), tape or fencing is generally more effective than bagging.  When using tape, it is important to apply the type with glass-yarn filaments embedded within so that the raccoons cannot tear through the tape.  Taping, is more labor-intensive than fencing, but may be more practical and acceptable for small backyard gardens.

You should store garbage in metal or tough plastic containers with tight-fitting lids to discourage raccoons from raiding garbage cans.  If lids do not fit tightly, it may be necessary to wire, weight, or clamp them down.  Secure cans to a rack or tie them to a support to prevent raccoons from tipping them over.

George Hurd is the Penn State Cooperative Extension Environmental/Resource Development Educator serving the Southeast Region.  Penn State Extension in Cumberland County is located at 310 Allen Road, Suite 601, Carlisle, PA  17013. Phone 717-240-6500. E-mail CumberlandExt@psu.edu.  

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