Vertebrate pests are found in and around virtually every cropping system in the state, although they may not always present a significant problem. In some crops, damage caused by birds generally results in a loss of a portion of the current crop but does not decrease future yield potential. Some pests, however, can cause major problems by feeding on fruit and on tree bark, shoots, and roots, which can stunt growth or kill plants. Injury to trees by rodents or rabbits, for example, is often serious, killing the tree outright or causing permanent damage that lowers yields for years following the initial feeding.
Some pests will chew or destroy flexible irrigation lines and emitters. Other pests will dig holes through the soil surface, thereby channeling surface irrigation water to undesired areas. Food safety also becomes an issue if pest residues come into contact with the marketable commodity.
Manage your fields in order to keep pest numbers low and to discourage new invasions so that significant damage does not occur.
- Before planting, remove vertebrate pests and destroy habitats (such as burrows) within the field boundaries. Preventive measures cost less and are more successful before planting, when one can easily see the pests or their habitats.
- Be aware of the location, as vertebrate pests can easily reinvade if the field is adjacent to rangeland, waterways, or unmanaged areas. It is much easier to manage vertebrate pests by implementing controls on the perimeter versus inside.
- Baiting, fencing, fumigating burrows, shooting, and trapping are easier and usually more effective if employed before you plant instead of after.
- Where feasible, deep plow and disc to destroy burrows, disperse or kill resident populations, and reduce the risk of reinvasion by pocket gophers, voles, and (to a lesser extent) ground squirrels.
Guidelines for reducing vertebrate pest problems and making control more economical:
- Correctly identify the species causing the problem using damage signs, burrows or habitat, tracks, feces, etc.
- If feasible, alter the habitat to make the area less favorable to the pest species (e.g., eliminate cover crops and weeds or keep them mowed low.)
- Take early action and use the control methods appropriate for the crop and time of year. Consider the environment and nontarget species when choosing a control method.
- Establish a monitoring system to detect reinfestation so you can determine when additional corrective measures or controls are necessary.
A successful pest management program requires good records and regular monitoring. Some vertebrate pest populations can easily "explode" because of high reproductive rates and abundant food. Keep a record of the management procedures you use and their effectiveness. Good records will help you plan and improve future control strategies.
For most vertebrate pests, there is more than one control option for reducing numbers and damage. The following table summarizes the various control measures appropriate for common vertebrate pests. Details on how to use these controls are given in the individual pest sections.
|Habitat modification||Trapping||Baiting||Fencing||Tree guards||Frightening||Shooting||Fumigating||Repellents|
|Eastern fox squirrel||X||X|
|California ground squirrel||X||X||X||X||X|
|1||During hunting season or with a permit.|
|2||Cottontails are relatively easy to trap. Jackrabbits are difficult to trap, but trapping may be useful.|
|3||Not all of these techniques will be effective for all species. More specific information can be found in the bird section.|
|Adapted from Salmon and Lickliter 1984. Wildlife Pest Control Around Gardens and Homes. UC ANR Publication 21385.|
Vertebrate control equipment and supplies (baits, fumigants, propane exploders, traps, etc.) are available at local retail outlets such as farm supply and hardware stores. In addition, some county agricultural commissioner's offices make certain rodenticides and fumigants available to growers. For further information or sources of special control materials, consult your local Cooperative Extension advisor or agricultural commissioner's office.
Legal Aspects of Vertebrate Pest Management
Under the California Fish and Game Code, if California ground squirrels, meadow voles, pocket gophers, eastern fox squirrels, roof rats, black-tailed jackrabbits, cottontail rabbits, American crows, house sparrows, starlings, and yellow-billed magpies are causing or are anticipated to cause crop depredation, the owner or tenant of a property may use lethal methods to remove them at any time.
For other pests such as deer, wild pigs, western gray squirrels, and most bird species, depredation permits are required for removal. However, these regulations can change at any time, so it is always a good idea to check current California Fish and Game Code to ensure removal of a particular species is legal.
Only pesticides that are registered with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) can legally be used for vertebrate pest control. Registered materials are listed in DPR's databases. You may also contact your county agricultural commissioner for current product registrations and the latest information on legal pesticide use, including current information on restrictions that apply to pest control activities in order to protect endangered species. Follow label directions carefully and understand the hazards when using poison baits and fumigants.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has placed restrictions on most rodenticides used to control vertebrates in agricultural production. The applicator must have a permit to purchase and use the product. These products will be identified with an asterisk (*).
Trapping is often used to control vertebrate pests. Mark all traps clearly with the owner's name and contact address or phone number. In California, trapping mammals, even for pest purposes, requires a trapping license issued by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. However, rats, mice, moles, voles, and pocket gophers do not have this requirement. Additionally, you do not need a trapping license for ground squirrels or rabbits if trapping on your own property for pest control purposes. However, if trapping either of these species for profit (e.g., pest control operator), a trapping license is required.
In some areas of California, crop fields are located within the range of federally- and state-protected threatened or endangered species. Species likely to be of concern include the San Joaquin kit fox, several species of kangaroo rats, and, where burrow fumigants are used, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, California red-legged frog, and California tiger salamander.
Special guidelines apply to the use of toxic baits and fumigants for vertebrate pest control in these areas. These include
- Modification of ground squirrel bait stations to exclude protected species
- Restrict broadcast applications of bait
- Prohibit fumigation at certain locations or during some times of the year
- Require that applications be supervised by someone trained to avoid harming endangered species
Your county agricultural commissioner has the latest detailed maps that show the ranges of endangered species and the latest information on restrictions that apply to pest control activities in those areas. You can also get more information on endangered species regulations from the DPR website.
For more information on vertebrate management, see the Vertebrate Pest Control Handbook online.