Skunks love to dig up our vegetables in search of grubs. Our late Doberman used to enjoy late night backyard skunk hunting expeditions which never ended well for him. For years I’ve used bird netting to keep them out of my vegetable beds. The problem with bird netting is that it’s a pain to work with–it catches on things, tangles up, and occasionally traps a bird. I hate the stuff. It took me 16 years to realize that I could exclude skunks from the entire backyard. All it takes is a simple strategy: know thy enemy.
Skunks can’t climb
Skunks, unlike raccoons and possums, are poor climbers. I noted that they were able to climb up on my straw bales, but that’s about as high as they can go (18″ or so.) . Our backyard has a six-foot fence all around it. But skunks are also great diggers. Thankfully, there’s a partially buried chain link fence along most of the perimeter of the backyard. Along the back there’s a concrete slab. But there are a few weak spot where skunks can dig under the fence.
I knew of at least two places that were open, critter highways into our backyard. At these two spots I bent some hardware cloth into an L shape, attached the top part to the fence and partially buried the lower part in the ground. I also closed an awkward gap in a fence we share with a neighbor. Finally, I sheathed the chain link gate to the backyard with wood to make it more attractive and skunk proof.
To see if my skunk defenses held up, I scattered some flour around the gaps in the fence I had fixed. If skunks managed to get in they would leave tracks in the flour. Here’s what I discovered:
My new skunk proofing was not keeping skunks out–it was keeping them in. I found tracks in the flour on the inside of the fence where they were trying to get out. I also saw the skunk late at night.
Understanding Urban Skunk Habitat
In the wild skunks dig dens or live in hollowed out logs. In urban areas they like to take up residence in crawl spaces and under decks. (Design tip: avoid creating skunk habitat in the first place by making sure these types of spaces are not accessible.) I suspect that there may be a skunk or two living under our back shed. This shed is as old as the house (almost 100 years) and can’t be skunk proofed on all sides due to its setting. I’m going to have to drive it out. The most common method I’ve found of evicting skunks involves playing a radio all night (finally, a good use for late night radio host George Noory!).
I’ve got a deadline. Skunks breed in the spring. Last year we had an entire skunk family that would graze in the backyard every night. Kinda cute, but very annoying. My plan is to have the skunks evicted before they make babies.
Skunks in crawl spaces and basements
In addition to our backyard woes, some critter managed to rip open the crawl space access door on the side of our house. This could mean that I have skunks in the basement as well as under the shed. To evict whatever is living down there, I’m going to rig up a live trap so that it becomes a one-way exit. (I’ll do a separate post on this technique.)t. This allows animals to leave but not come back in. You have to check the trap and reset it every day. I do this to avoid trapping animals in the crawl space–I’d hate to trap a poor cat down there.
I also plan on using the one-way exit trap to evict the skunk or skunks that are now trapped in the backyard. I’ll rig up the trap by the back gate, put on George Noory, and hope for the best.
Trapping or Killing
Trapping and relocating skunks doesn’t work. It’s not really a a humane option because they usually die in their new location. Killing the skunks outright just makes room for another skunk to move in. The best thing you can do is just make your yard inhospitable.
Working with skunks
Once plants are well established skunks aren’t much of a problem. Where I don’t want to have to take all these preventative measures (such as the front yard) I’ve got fruit trees, native plants and cardoons–things skunks can’t uproot. The two vegetable beds I have in the front yard have to be encased in bird netting since there’s no way to fence in the entire front yard (it’s a steep slope).
I inferred that skunks are an enemy earlier in this post. The fact is that skunks are here to stay and are part of our urban ecosystem. They have found a niche and keep figeater beetles, whose larvae they really like, in check. That said, I still don’t want them in our vegetable beds. But what I’ve suggested in this post is an exclusionary strategy rather than a death based strategy.
- Understand skunk behavior, breeding patterns and territory.
- Reduce habitat.
- Secure crawl spaces and decks before breeding season begins.
- Observe and troubleshoot.
- If all else fails, stop worrying and learn to live with them.
Are skunks a problem for you? How do you deal with them?