By Carol Stiffler
A quick walk through Newberry at night, or any place in the region, is often remarkably quiet. But any walker worth their sneakers knows they’d better watch for skunks.
There seem to be skunks-a-plenty in the area, and their corpses dot roadsides in tiny tragedies you can smell long before you get there. That’s where services like skunk removal come in to the rescue.
Though sightings of skunks – both dead and alive – might lead us to believe we are overrun with them, that’s not the case, said Kristie Sitar, wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
“I don’t think we have an absurd amount of skunks,” Sitar said. “They don’t have a great load of predators that are successful at killing them. Their largest source of mortality is human-caused mortality. We’re not overrun with skunks or anything like that.”
There are upsides to having neighborly skunks, who are actually quite passive creatures, Sitar said.
“There are beneficial reasons for having a skunk around,” Sitar said. Skunks, who have terrible eyesight and an excellent sense of smell, root around for insects and insect larvae – like grubs – “that’s usually what they’re digging for,” she said.
They’ll also eat grasshoppers, beetles, wasps, frogs, mushrooms, plants, berries, dead animals, and small rodents, if they can catch them. They do eat bees, too, Sitar noted, though that is less of a positive.
And though they will swipe eggs from the nest of a chicken, they’re not really out to eat chickens, Sitar said.
“If chickens have a hidden nest somewhere,” she said, “a skunk could find that, and there could be a scuffle.” Keeping chickens in a closed coop at night should be enough to keep chickens safe from skunks.
That said, Sitar understands not wanting to share your property with the black-and-white creatures. They can carry rabies and distemper, can pass worms to pets, and can cause a big inconvenience by spraying your pets if the two should meet at night.
Options include taking away food sources – compost piles, bird seed, food for outdoor pets – and closing up known skunk holes while the skunks are out.
Inside village limits, there are ordinances against firing weapons, so they can’t be shot. And any trapped skunk cannot be relocated to another property without permission from the other landowner – even if it is state land, Sitar said.
In rural areas, skunks can be shot and killed without limit or license, so long as the shooter is more than 500 feet from the dwelling of any neighbor.
“It is not legal to drown them,” Sitar said. “It’s not a pleasant thing to do to an animal.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association has released guidelines for killing an animal, and Sitar said it’s necessary to follow those. That’s in addition to any local restrictions and ordinances about hunting, trapping, and shooting.
And if your pet does get sprayed by a skunk, this recipe is known to be very effective at removing the smell:
Mix 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide,
¼ cup baking soda,
1 tsp liquid dishwashing soap.
Wash your pet with this mixture, being careful to avoid eyes. Rub the mixture into any affected part of fur. Don’t leave on too long; rinse thoroughly. Follow with a shampoo and rinse. Towel dry your pet and keep them warm while they dry.