COLUMN: Some tips for keeping skunks wild – and away from you

Skunks can be beneficial to local ecosystems, write two Selkirk College students, so if you are having problems with them, consider non-lethal solutions. File photo

By Dani Lounsbury and Sarah Beaudoin

Skunks: we all know them. We don’t see them all that often, but whether you love them or hate them we’ve all run into them at one point or another or at least smelled one. We have two skunks in BC but the most common is the striped skunk.

Skunks live in a wide range of habitats, everything from forests to grasslands. They are opportunistic in where they live and what they eat. Skunks prefer to live in the abandoned dens of woodchucks, foxes, and other mammals. They are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. The natural diet of these animals varies from insects to small rodents and even bird eggs … for the most part, whatever they can get a hold of.

Unfortunately, skunks have become habituated to humans and herein lies the conflict. Skunks have adapted to living amongst humans and can be found within town and city limits which can prove quite problematic for the average homeowner. They have been known to dig up and destroy gardens and lawns, scatter garbage, and feed on pet food left outside or the seeds we leave for birds.

Those who have a dog may have also experienced skunk spray. Skunks are known for their strong scented spray that is used as a defense mechanism. This spray is not only unpleasant in smell, but also very hard to get rid of and can cause skin irritation and even blindness.

If you seem to have a smelly guest staying in your space there are many feasible options to consider before you decide on a lethal one. Understand that if you destroy the skunk in your yard, another will likely show up soon to takes its place. They are in your yard because of what you are providing for the skunk. The key to getting rid of skunks is eliminating those things attracting them to your yard in the first place … potential dens and/or food.

The easiest things to do are to harvest your garden as soon as possible, keep garbage in a wildlife-proof bin, remove unnecessary bird feeders, store pet food in a proper Rubbermaid bin or just feed your pets inside the house.

The next step would be to eliminate potential dens. If you notice holes under your house or shed, first make sure no skunks are in the hole by filling half the hole with loose dirt. If an animal is present, they will likely dig the dirt out. Once you have determined no animal is present you can completely fill in the holes.

You can also use fencing such as chicken wire to wrap around the base of your porch to prevent skunks from trying to excavate dens under your house. There are also natural skunk repellents you can use to deter an unwanted skunk such as citrus peels or the urine of potential predators such as dogs or foxes.

Although skunks are known to be a nuisance there are also many benefits to having them in our ecosystems and even our own backyards. They prey on different insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, grubs, worms, black widow spiders and even wasps. Skunks are also natural predators of mice and other rodents we do not find desirable. So before you decide to dispose of a skunk think of ways you can get them to live just a little farther away.

Dani Lounsbury and Sarah Beaudoin are second year recreation, fish and wildlife students at Selkirk College in Castlegar.

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