HOULTON — Something stinks in Houlton.
A number of residents are reporting problems with skunks digging up their lawns and generally being a nuisance. In fact, the situation is so pungent that Animal Control Officer Kevin Upton is having a hard time keeping up with the number of complaints.
“The problem has escalated over the past three years or so,” he said. “The main thing they are looking for is food, water and shelter.”
Upton said he has had one of his busiest seasons on record. Thus far, he has captured more than 25 skunks within town limits and yet there is still a waiting list of people wanting animals caught in their yards.
The captured skunks are then released into the wild.
The true scope of the problem may be even larger since many residents are not aware they can call the animal control officer with skunk problems.
“About the only animals I don’t deal with are bear, moose and deer,” Upton said. “I hold an animal damage control license through the state. It is just part of the service that we provide to the town.”
The town purchased a couple of spring-loaded traps for its animal control officer in January 2010.
“Last summer, those traps got a little bit of usage, but this summer it has just taken off,” Upton said.
There have been more complaints called in to the Houlton Police Department this year than in recent history. Skunks and groundhogs are the primary culprits, but some also are reporting raccoon problems.
In years past, when the town did not own any traps, there was little Upton could do to assist homeowners with their problems. Because of this, the number of incidents reported was low.
“We maybe had five or six calls a year,” he said. “Now, the population has exploded. In the past month, I have had four complaints a week.”
While skunk and groundhog reports are on the rise, raccoon complaints appear to be on the decline.
One of the problems in dealing with skunks is the amount of time it takes to catch them, Upton said. He typically surveys a person’s yard and then sets a trap in an area he thinks will have the greatest amount of success. Sometimes he is able to snag a skunk on the first night, but other times he waits a week or longer before the animal is caught.
Upton said tall grass is his best friend when deciding where to set traps as it shows the trail that animals are taking. The animals also are exceptional at digging holes and fitting into the tiniest of openings.
“Skunks are digging up lawns to get at the grubs underneath the surface,” Upton said. “Right now, they are really scrambling to pack on weight for the winter. They are not a true hibernator, so they do get out some in the winter.”
Upton said he recently learned skunks may have up to 10 different dens scattered throughout a neighborhood, making it difficult to predict where they will be on any given night.
Upton expressed concerns about diseases the animals may carry.
“They can carry rabies, but as far as I know, we have never had a case of rabies in the town of Houlton,” he said.
A few years ago, the USDA blanketed the town with rabies vaccine, Upton said. A number of animals were captured, tested and then released. Those animals all tested positive for the rabies vaccine.
Upton suggested the following tips for homeowners to help curb or prevent skunk problems in their yards.
• Sprinkle a grub-killing pesticide on your lawn to eliminate the food supply for skunks.
• Do not leave openings under storage sheds, porches or decks, which provide a habitat for skunks.
• Do not leave brush piles in your yard, since skunks often will burrow to the center of those piles to make a nest.
• Cover compost piles and do not store household garbage outside where animals can access it.
To report a skunk problem, call Upton at the Houlton Police Department at 532-2287.