By Alex Emslie
Ever want to trap a turkey? Eradicate a raccoon? Garrote a goose? You’re not alone.
As more and more wild creatures set up housekeeping in Bay Area cities and suburbs, some residents are getting tired of squirrels eating their bird food. They're furious when raccoons battle their dogs, sad when their roses disappear down a deer’s gullet, and disgusted when fowl foul the beach.
At the same time, some wild urban creatures look like they might be good for dinner. Several readers of our recent post on how to respond to aggressive turkeys suggested taking matters into your own hands. But if you're searching in the basement for your grandfather's shotgun, stop right there.
Most of the critters that annoy us the most are protected by one statute or another, especially within city limits.
First, it’s illegal to discharge a firearm or projectile weapon in most urban areas except in very specific instances, such as an immediate threat to personal safety. It's unlikely a pecking fowl would qualify.
"I would not encourage anyone to engage a turkey with a firearm in our city limits," says San Francisco police spokesman Gordon Shyy. You’d probably have to be cornered by a bear or mountain lion to claim self-defense.
Oakland and San Jose have similarly strict laws with few exceptions.
Berkeley’s municipal code appears to leave the largest loophole, an exemption for "persons using firearms for the purpose of destroying noxious animals upon land owned or occupied by them." Berkeley officials confirm the law is on the books, but they refused to offer an example of when it might apply, or even a definition of "noxious." (The law in Berkeley might be trumped by the state Fish and Game Code, which prohibits discharging firearms within 150 yards of an occupied building.)
Residents of cities other than Berkeley may wonder if they'd be allowed to kill animal intruders with their bare hands, or perhaps tilt the scale slightly with a tire iron or shovel.
Probably not. It's illegal to kill certain animals that have a legal status, regardless of whether or not a gun is used. Animals like deer, mountain lions, gray squirrels, bears and turkeys, to name a few, are game animals and thus require a permit to hunt.
Distressed citizens can request a depredation permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which also requires contracting a licensed wildlife control operator who must act as the property owner’s agent. Once the permit and wildlife person are in place, the target animal must be euthanized (because problem critters won't be relocated), and no one's allowed to eat it.
"There’s no early turkey dinner,” said Conrad Jones, a CDFW scientist.
You may legally kill mice or rats by any means necessary. Just don’t use certain pesticides that are likely to cause ecological damage.
Raccoons—those lovable, intelligent garbage bandits—present an interesting legal quandary for the potentially murderous homeowner. Technically, “you do not need a permit to dispatch them if you are suffering damage,” Jones said. But you might find yourself arrested for poaching a fur-bearing animal.
So what can you do?
- Don’t feed them directly, and don’t feed your pets outdoors. The more the wild animals get, the more they’ll demand. (If you actually want to help the wild animals, consult Yggdrasil Urban Wildlife Rescue.)
- Secure your garbage cans and cat doors.
- Pick up fallen fruit.
- Build good fences.
- If confronted, make noise or spray water.
- If that doesn't do the trick, contact the Department of Fish and Wildlife, your local animal control office or a licensed pest control service.
- For more detailed recommendations on a variety of species, visit this CDFW resource page, or read these detailed documents from the UC-Davis.
In the meantime, get yourself a pair of binoculars and perhaps a telephoto lens. Some of these critters are downright fun to watch. Like this turkey in North Berkeley.