Finding a Professional Wildlife Control Operator

Tips provided by Stephen M. Vantassel

Definitions

People who specialize in handling wildlife damage problems can be designated by a number of terms.

  • NWCO-(pronounced "newco") means Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator
  • WCO-means Wildlife Control Operator  
  • PAC- term used in Massachusetts, means Problem Animal Controller  
  • Pest Controller-term is too vague as it normally refers to people who also handle bugs.
  • ACO-Animal Control Officer. Typically a municipal worker who only handles domestic animals, such as dogs and cats.

There is no specific formula, no exact set of questions, that will always connect you with the perfect company to solve your wildlife conflict. I hope I haven't given you false hopes in this regard. However, there are some questions you may want to ask before you sign any contracts or make other commitments. These are offered below in no particular order of priority. You, as the customer, are the best judge as to what is most important to you.

Qualifications of the WCO

  • Did the wildlife control operator (WCO) give you a brochure? If yes, did it cover the company's practices?, explain state laws, give a history of the company?
  • Ask for references.
  • Ask how many years in the animal control business? This question is not to be confused with how many years in the pest control business. Controlling insects is very different from controlling wildlife. (too many pest controllers start doing animal damage control with little to no trapping or wildlife handling experience)
  • Find out if the person is licensed to do animal damage control work in the state in which you live. While some states don't require licenses, many do. Ask if the person has completed a state certified trapping course.
  • Ask what magazines he/she reads. The answer should include Wildlife Control Technology Magazine (it is the trade magazine of the industry)
  • Ask if he/she is a member of their state animal damage control association (not every state has one but many do). To see if there is one for your state visit State WCO Associations. Membership doesn't prove quality but it does show the person at least cares enough for the industry to participate in its future.
  • Is he/she a member of the National Wildlife Control Operators Assoc.?NWCOA Certified Wildlife Control Professional
  • Is your animal damage controller a Certified Wildlife Control Professional? You can learn more about this certification at the NWCOA web site. (I was the chairman of the certification committee 2000-2002).
  • Consult with your state's Environmental Police and Department of Natural Resources. Ask them who they recommend in your area. Press them for an unofficial statement.
  • Philosophy. People are not all alike when it comes to attitudes and values. This is particularly true when it comes to the relationships between humans and wild animals. If you have strong feelings about how animals should be managed, discuss these issues with the company. If they can't accommodate your concerns, they should be able to explain why, and you should be able to understand their reasons. For example, if you would like to have an animal trapped and released in another location, and state law or regulation prohibits this action, the company should be able to explain this to you, and quote or show you a copy of the relevant law or regulation. On the other hand, you may not care how a particular animal is captured or killed, but there may be legal restrictions on how the animal can be trapped, handled, and relocated or destroyed. Since you are the customer, understand what you are buying and, when possible, buy what you want.

The Business Practices of the Wildlife Control Operator (WCO)

  • How does the WCO require payment? Be wary of companies that don't appear established that require all the money up front. Any NWCO or reputable company should be satisfied with 50% down and the remaining amount due upon completion of the job.  
  • Does he/she put the job in writing with a complete contract?  
  • Does the WCO have liability insurance? If so how much? $100,000 of coverage is very easy to obtain in this industry. There is no excuse as to why a WCO can't have it.  
  • Does the WCO have Workman's Comp insurance? This insurance protects the worker if he gets injured on the job. Understand that most WCOs are self employed and so may not be required by law to have it. However, if they have other employees they may have to have it.  
  • Does the WCO give a guarantee? While any guarantee is only as good as the NWCO who gives it, getting one at least suggests the person might be in business long enough to back it.  
  • Did the WCO present you with a variety of control options? Exclusion, trapping, eviction, habitat modification or maybe even suggesting that nothing be done? How does his/her recommendations compare with those suggested by the Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage? Understand that sometimes the WCO doesn't present you with a variety of options because you already gave him specific instructions. Don't be angry at the WCO if he does what you tell him. If you want to double check, ask him if there are other possible solutions than the one you asked for? Better yet, ask the wco if there are other control options than what he suggested.  
  • Think you are being overcharged? Consider the following:
  • a. how dangerous is the job? (ladder work is always dangerous)
  • b. how difficult is it to control the species? (Some species like grays are easy to control. Others like reds can be more difficult). c. how much travel and equipment is involved to resolve the problem? (If the WCO has to travel twenty miles one way to reach your location, he will need to get paid for the time both ways).
  • d. how expensive is it to live in your area? (WCOs in the Boston area get more money than those who live in W. Massachusetts).
  • e. what kind of warranty of guarantee does the WCO give? Depending on the species, a month to a year is sufficient. Also, guarantees are only as good as the company who gives them. If they go out of business, the guarantee means nothing.
  • f. Remember quality companies that hold insurance, good equipment, and training have higher costs. While high prices don't guarantee quality, low prices almost always guarantee that the person is not insured. Beware of low-bid companies. 
  • g. How busy is the WCO? Sometimes NWCO's raise prices due to excessive demand. Other times prices may be lower due to reduced demand.

Workmanship of the Wildlife Control Operator

  • Did the WCO tell you about the lifecycle of the animal causing the problem and the potential or non-potential of young being present?
  • If you rent traps, did you ask if the WCO flames the traps to kill various potentially dangerous organisms that may be contaminating the trap. (This is one reason why you should always wear gloves when handling traps).
  • Be careful of anyone who says they are going to spray something to drive the animal out. Some states do no allow chemicals to be used on wildlife. I also have concerns about the effectiveness and/or safety of this technique. (There are gray areas such as using fox urine to evict certain animals. On technical grounds, the person probably should have a pesticide license and the insurance that goes along with the license).
  • Ask the contractor who is responsible for checking the traps? How often are the traps to be checked. (The correct answer is the traps must be checked daily including weekends and holidays. If you must check the traps then the trapper must be available to remove the trapped animals).
  • Does the contractor cover the cage traps with cloth or other product to give the animal an area of shelter from sun, wind, rain etc? Contrary to popular mythology, cage traps are not necessarily more humane than kill traps. Chances are this item is not legally required by state law. But we see it as an animal welfare issue. Does the animal damage controller want to fulfill the spirit of the law?
  • If the WCO is making repairs to the house, will he need a contractors, home improvement license? Some states require a license when any improvement is done to a home such as installing a vent screen. Other states require a license only when large jobs are being done like those that cost over 1000 dollars. Warning, a lot of these kinds of laws are arcane and not enforced until something goes wrong so don't be surprised if the NWCO doesn't know about them.
  • Finally, ask yourself some questions. Are you willing to follow the person's recommendations? If not then don't blame the NWCO for when something goes wrong.
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