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Man vs. Beast

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Wildlife may be moving into our neighborhoods, but it goes both ways. Humans have been encroaching on animals' natural habitats for some time. And a lot of people are discovering that the animals don't care to move out, thank you very much. For the Environment Report, Kyle Norris finds that this can make for some interesting interactions.

Get this: woodpeckers want to live inside Tom Wojnowski's house.

WOJNOWSKI: There's a hole. And when you're in house here's what you hear, you hear this: (knocks) and you know you're being attacked!

Wojnowski is not so keen on sharing his house with the woodpeckers. He managed to scare that one away, but then another woodpecker made a pretty good-sized hole on the other side of the house.

Wojnowski put up one of those menacing plastic owls, you know, to scare the woodpecker away - and he thinks it's working. He'll probably even buy another plastic owl. You know, with those cute eyes, all wide.

Wojnowski lives in a suburb, but it's sort of out in the country. There are dirt roads, and lots of trees. And lots of wildlife in the area.

Wojnowski started having problems with animals pretty much the day they moved into the house. Actually, he can list off his problems to the ABCs.

WOJNOWSKI: Well let's start with A. Ants haven't been a big problem. There's been a few but none in the house and they're out there so I leave them alone. B. You have bees and bats.

Ok, this could go on for a while… so I'm going to jump in here.

Bats were living in the attic. Carpenter bees chewed holes in the siding. So, for “D” you've got deer. The deer ate pretty much all the landscaped plants. Ok so now, let's jump to “F.”

There was this fox. It had been living in Wojnowski's drainage ditch. And it would bury its kill in the lawn—things like dead, smelly skunks. Yeah.

So, one day Wojnowski was getting his mail and the fox came strolling out of woods. And they locked eyes.

Wojnowski noticed the fox was small and red… and beautiful.

But he was tired of dealing with it.

WOJNOWSKI: So I took this rock and I put it in front of the drainage ditch hole. And he watched me do that and it was almost like ‘what are you doing to me here?' So then he went next door and went to their drainage ditch.

Wojnowski is not the only guy who's battling it out with the wildlife.

As people keep moving into areas near wildlife, there are problems. I mean at a certain point it starts to feel like…(Boxing announcer: in this corner, with acres of ravaged lawns and gardens to their credit, we have the wildlife. (applause and boos) And in this corner, with a hoe, live traps, and a BB gun, we have the human homeowners…" (applause and boos and the ‘ding' of the boxing bell)

But experts say it does not actually have to be 'us' versus 'them'. Jennifer Kleitch is a wildlife technician with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

She says people need to realize that they're part of the problem.

Dog food outside is a free meal for coyotes. People who mow their lawns all the way to the edge of their pond create paradise for geese: short grass near water.

And then there's this kind of thing which can happen with raccoons:

KLEITCH: If we leave out our garbage and they get into it, we get mad and they're being a nuisance. But we are in essence responsible for them being there and being drawn to it.”

She says people tend look at it as if animals are the problem. But… the people moved into the animals' neighborhood.

Stephen Vantassel says we're conflicted about wildlife. He's a wildlife damage educator with the University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension office.

VANTASSEL: We tend to have the Disney effect with wildlife. We have these rather pastoral images of a person walking through a deep forest and seeing the deer in the distance. And then that attitude can change dramatically when they see that same deer ravaging a plant they paid $500 for to have put in their backyard.”

He says when people start thinking of wildlife as “evil” (As in, “that thing that tore up my flower bed is ‘evil'”) well, that can be bad.

The animals are not the enemy… they're part of the environment… the same environment that people want to live in.

So… Tom Wojnowski? You know, the ABC guy?

Well, he says his perspective has changed a little over time. He still thinks if animals are destroying his property, yeah, well then they've got to go. But he's starting to realize there are things he can do to discourage wildlife from damaging his property without waging war.

He's kind of getting into it actually. He's started reading up on different animals. He says he likes and respects animals… even the mole tearing up his lawn. He thought it was a whole colony. Turned out… it was just one mole. But one heck of a hard-working mole.

Experts say there are plenty of cheap, simple things you can do just to prevent problems.

Like modify bird feeders to guard against squirrels. Chimney caps discourage uninvited guests from dropping in. And people can fill in the cracks and crevices around their home to stop things like bees and mice from sneaking in.

But the experts say that the best thing you can do is cool your jets. Stop viewing the animal as the problem. And realize that the animal is just trying to do its thing.

As for the wildlife around Tom Wojnowski's place, well, they're stalled at the letter W. Which is the first letter in his last name. The animals are still trying to learn to live with him.

For the Environment Report, I'm Kyle Norris.

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