The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is legislatively mandated to preserve, protect, and perpetuate wildlife. They also have the responsibility to assure that individual animals do not pose a threat to human safety or create unreasonable damage to crops, livestock, or property.
The expanding human population and the habitat alteration (or loss) accompanying it are resulting in a progressive increase in the frequency of wildlife/human conflicts. As a result, each year WDFW receives thousands of calls from citizens seeking advice on how to deal with unwanted wild animals. Although laws give citizens substantive latitude to deal with problems, many are either unwilling or unable to handle human/wildlife conflicts.
In addition to its staff, WDFW call on the help of private citizens who have skills and training in the capture and handling of many wildlife species that commonly generate wildlife complaints. Typically these individuals are referred to as "WCO’s" (Wildlife Control Operators). There are many WCO’s throughout the state and although they must be licensed through WDFW, and conform to its regulations, they are not state employees, they operate as private enterprises and set their own fees.
Under the authority of their certification, WCO’s are able to trap, capture, and remove raccoons, opossums, skunks, etc. year-round. WCO’s do not handle issues involving big game animals such as deer, elk, cougar or bear. Those situations still must be handled by Fish and Wildlife Officers and require different services where conventional trapping/exclusion techniques will not apply.
The WDFW website and the WDFW Regional Offices continue to provide technical advice and/or informational pamphlets on request to citizens who are experiencing wildlife problems. WCO’s, however, provide direct assistance to landowners who are willing to pay for the cost of licensed and trained individuals to resolve their wildlife problems. While many conflicts can be solved with information about an animal's activities, or by adopting a more tolerant stance or doing some repair work, WCO’s are recommended for work that poses health or safety hazards, or work that requires special trap setting skills and knowledge of wildlife to minimize inhumane treatment of animals.
To find a WCO, contact your WDFW Regional Office for names of companies or individuals that specialize in wildlife control work in your area. Some companies may also be listed under "Pest Control" in your local phone directory. Be aware of some pest control companies that advertise that they offer nuisance wildlife control work. Inquire whether or not the company has a nuisance wildlife control certification. It is unlawful to trap nuisance wildlife on the property of another for a fee or other consideration without a certification (WAC 232-36-065).
Follow these guidelines to choose a company that suits your needs:
Does the representative appear to be professional and care about their work, the animals involved, and your concerns?
Does the person appear knowledgeable and take the time to explain not only what the source of the problem is, but also its causes and potential solutions?
Is the person licensed by the state, and bonded or insured against any incidental damage that might occur?
Is the person willing to give you names and phone numbers of satisfied customers?
Does the person try to scare you with talk about wildlife diseases or dangerous animals, or do they simply make you aware that you need to be cautious when dealing with wildlife to avoid the risk of infection?
Are the procedures to be used simply and concisely explained? (Note: Under permit, mandatory euthanization of certain species may be required (see Trapping Wildlife for an explanation on why). Call your WDFW Regional Office for current requirements.)
Does the person have more than one recommendation to resolve the problem—including nonlethal solutions?
Does this person's approach to the problem include making sure it does not reoccur? This should include a discussion of needed structural repairs or changes and ways you should alter your own habits (e.g., birdfeeder or trash maintenance).
Is any part of the work guaranteed? Although the kind of guarantee will vary depending upon the species involved and the type of work being performed, getting a guarantee suggests the person might be in business long enough to back it.
Does this person offer a written contract? This is a must!
Does the person provide a variety of pricing options to fit your budget? For example, can you share in the work by checking cage traps to save trips to your home?
Ask the person who is responsible for checking the traps how often the traps are to be checked. (The correct answer is that 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.)
And, finally but importantly:
Just because a company charges a lot of money for its services doesn't necessarily mean that it is better or more reputable than other companies. Be cautious of low quotes; you often get what you pay for.
Discuss the situation with someone else and do the math to make your own estimate of what you are going to pay per hour for the job. Consider the following: How dangerous is the job? (Ladder work is always dangerous.) How much travel and equipment is involved to resolve the problem? (If the person has to travel 20 miles one-way to reach your location, they will need to get paid for the time both ways.) Also consider how expensive it is to live in your area and what kind of warranty or guarantee the company gives.
Be wary of a company that requires all the money up front. Any reputable company should be satisfied with 50 percent down and the remaining amount due upon completion of the job.
Be in control of all your negotiations and do not be pressured into buying the service. If it just doesn't feel right, take your business elsewhere.