Enterprise: Wildlife nuisance professionals discuss business misconception

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 04-15-2024 1:52 PM

CORNISH — Homeowners looking to evict an unwelcome animal intruder might find its more than they can handle on their own.

That’s why it could be best to call a professional because removing nuisance wildlife requires a lot more expertise and experience than most people realize.

Kelsey Breen, owner of Pest-End West LLC in Cornish, has been in the business of wildlife and pest control for a dozen years. He still is never sure what he might find when called upon to remove a nuisance animal.

“The public perception is often that wildlife control is about killing the animal, and that is not really the way it works,” Breen explained during an interview at his home office.

Nuisance animals include skunks, woodchucks, flying squirrels, raccoons, rodents and bats, which are the animals Breen said he removes most often. The work also may involve a lot of cleaning of the area and replacing things such as insulation, along with closing off entry points to the structure. Pest-End also eradicates pest infestations of ants, termites, bed bugs, wasps and other invertebrates.

Breen, 35, opened Pest-End last July after working 12 years in the industry, which followed four years in the Marine Corp out of high school.

“I have seen all parts of the industry from the field, training and the business side,” said Breen, an associate certified entomologist.

The knowledge he has accumulated during that time has come from both classroom and field work is exhaustive in detail.

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“New Hampshire and Vermont have a gauntlet of tests you have to take,” Breen said. “There is a formal license and certification you have to obtain.”

Pest control is regulated by the state departments of agriculture and — because the work usually includes chemical applications — there is more testing, licensing and certification required, Breen said.

According to the New Hampshire Fish and Game website, there are two licenses for wildlife control operators. A Level I license is a licensed trapper who also engages in trapping nuisance animals. A Level II operator does the same thing but for commercial purposes, according to the description on the Fish and Game website. Those with a Level II license have completed a six-hour workshop and are certified through the National Wildlife Control Operators Association. A third license is required for trapping.

Patrick Tate, the Fur-Bearing Project Leader with New Hampshire Fish and Game, said Level II operators can oversee all types of wildlife control, including bats and birds, while Level I is limited to fur-bearers, such as skunks, raccoons and beavers. Tate said there are about 270 license holders in New Hampshire combined for both levels, calling it a “highly competitive atmosphere” for work.

Hunter Garland started Garland Wildlife Services in Bethel in 2023. A park manager for the Vermont State Parks system, Garland said he devotes about 15 to 20 hours a week doing wildlife animal control in Vermont only.

“I think it is a growing business in this area,” Garland said, adding that he wants to keep his operation small, working nights and weekends. “I did it for a company when I lived in New Jersey and really enjoyed it.”

Garland said the only requirement in Vermont is to have a trapper’s license, which has to be renewed annually and the license holder must report to the state anything trapped, including where it was caught and when.

A trapper education course teaches how to set a trap, legality of traps and methodology of how to get started in trapping. But Garland and Breen said trapping is really a small part of wildlife control.

“Trapping is not the lion’s share of the work,” Garland said. “You look for the reason people have a conflict with an animal (and rectify that).”

When he has been contacted to address a nuisance animal, Breen said he has to first understand why the animal or pest is there.

“Every animal and every pest infestation is a symptom of a conducive condition in that immediate environment,” he said. “Not all skunks and not all squirrels are a nuisance. It can be simple or complex but there is a reason the animal is there.”

Wildlife control, Breen said, is mostly corrective.

“I like to call it conflict resolution,” he said. “It is not necessarily the animal itself, but how do I fix the reason they are there?”

Skunks, for example, are burrowing animals and could be under a deck or shed to dig a new den, while a woodchuck may raid a garden.

In both instances, Breen erects a barrier — exclusion is the industry term — to prevent access or closes off entry points.

“A lot of times, the animal will move on if done correctly,” he said.

Tate, with New Hampshire Fish and Game, said barriers are the preferred approach.

“They are what we train toward, so we are not unnecessarily removing animals off the landscape that are not truly nuisances but are taking advantage of an opportunity for space and resources,” Tate said. “When we remove that space and resource, the animal moves on.”

Bats, Breen said, only are looking for a place to be warm.

“They want nothing to do with your house other than it’s warm,” Breen said.

Garland warns those with a bat problem have to be careful because bat droppings can transmit diseases including histoplasmosis, a fungal disease that can cause anything from mild influenza to blood abnormalities, fever and in some cases, even death.

“They can cause a significant amount of damage, and they are also protected,” Garland said. The little brown bat, which has suffered from white nose syndrome, is endangered in Vermont, so harming, harassing or killing them is against the state’s endangered species law.

Breen’s tools of the trade include a variety of different size Havahart traps, which trap an animal for release, as well as ladders and other equipment. Breen estiamted that he has invested roughly $100,000 in his business, which includes his truck.

The cost to a property owner to remove a nuisance animal or get rid of insects varies widely. It could be a few hundred dollars to more than several thousand, Breen said.

“There isn’t a standard price,” Breen said. “All solutions require an inspection first in order to know the solution and put a price on it.”

The industry, Breen said, has undergone a recent buyout trend, with local companies being bought by larger corporations. Many of the bigger companies with overhead focus on pest control because it is more “reoccurring,” unlike wildlife control, Breen said.

“There is very little opportunity to have returning customers as long as you are solving the problem to begin with,” Breen said about wildlife control. “With pest control, depending on the location, there can be monthly, quarterly and annual plans, and it is much easier to build a business and maintain it that way.”

For those thinking about a career in wildlife control, Breen said they must be sure it is something they really want to do.

“There is a lot of problem-solving involved, and if you enjoy problem-solving, the amount of challenges out there are unlimited. It is not the type of job where you don’t love but don’t hate it and you can show up and just go through the motions,” he said. “There is too much you have to learn. On top of that regulations change, what we know about science changes and product technology changes. As soon as you catch up, there is more to learn.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.