Final Report for EW11-012

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2011: $96,053.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Jim Knight
Extension Wildlife Specialist
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Project Information

Abstract:

This project addressed the increasing need for county and reservation extension educators and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) personnel to provide education related to wildlife damage control on farms and ranches. In addition to requests from traditional farmers, there are increasing wildlife damage control needs from small acreage landowners and organic farmers. Organic farmers have limitations on how they can cope with pests, including wildlife pests. Like the organic farmers themselves, Extension and NRCS personnel lack information on controlling wildlife pests on organic farms. This project provided the training and materials needed to allow educators to address the vertebrate pest control needs of organic and traditional farmers. We conducted hands-on training workshops for Extension and NRCS personnel in Idaho and Montana, presented an online course in Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage for western state’s Extension and NRCS personnel, developed demonstration sites on private farms and the Flathead Reservation, developed a Wildlife Damage Control for Organic Farmers handbook and completed a webpage for wildlife damage control for traditional and organic farmers. Evaluations to measure short term and long term impacts have been conducted.

Project Objectives:

As the result of this project and the training received by county and reservation extension educators, we estimate 3000 producers will be reached resulting in vertebrate pest control improvements on 300,000 acres.

Objective 1 Determine vertebrate pest control methods that currently exist or which could be modified and developed for organic farmers.

Objective 2 Identify suitability, economic costs, effectiveness and strategies to enhance usefulness of methods determined in Objective 1.

Objective 3 Increase the vertebrate pest control knowledge and skills of extension educators so they have the capacity to address the educational needs of both traditional and organic farmers.

Objective 4 Extension educators will educate farmers so they can implement legal, effective, efficient and environmentally safe vertebrate pest control practices which will increase profits of farmers through reduced crop losses due to vertebrate pests.

Introduction:

Most farmers have challenges related to crop damage due to wildlife pests. Organic farmers have additional challenges because they cannot use chemical controls which are sometimes the most effective and efficient options. The same methods and techniques that could be used by organic farmers will provide relief for traditional farmers as well. As examples, new research on pocket gopher control has found specific traps, methods and timing of control can be more efficient and cost effective than traditional methods using toxicants. Modifying existing fences with new designs can provide 100% protection from deer for only $1500 per mile. Monofilament fishing line, when suspended above crops, has been shown to provide protection from birds.

County and reservation extension educators and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) personnel have increasing requests from organic farmers for information unique to organic farming. Coping with pests, including wildlife pests, are among the most common. Like the organic farmers themselves, Extension and NRCS personnel lack information on controlling wildlife pests on organic farms. During this project we provided the training and materials needed to allow educators to address the vertebrate pest control needs of organic and traditional farmers. We also developed written and video materials they can use in their programs to educate farmers on safe and effective methods of wildlife damage control. A website was developed for educators and clientele and is linked to eXtension for use of traditional and organic farmers.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Diane Green
  • Duane Griffith
  • Lauren Hunter
  • Rene Kittle
  • Dr. Paul McCawley
  • Gene Surber

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

For Objective 1, we conducted a thorough literature review of existing wildlife damage control methods and techniques that are appropriate or could be adapted for organic farmers. We evaluated published and unpublished techniques that have been tested and developed by wildlife professionals at universities and in agencies. Extension wildlife specialists across the country were contacted to solicit other techniques that have been tested but are not included in traditional literature.

A meeting for organic farmers was held in Sandpoint, Idaho to provide training and to solicit information on current wildlife problems and solutions (if any) experienced by organic farmers in Idaho (Photo 2). A similar meeting was held in Montana at several locations with individual and smaller groups of organic and traditional farmers.

For Objective 2, pest wildlife problems were identified by organic farmers in Montana and Idaho through a survey of members of the states’ organic farmer associations. Farmers were also asked to identify control techniques they have used in the past and estimate economic losses due to wildlife pests. Wildlife experts in the western states were surveyed to identify the primary wildlife species farmers have problems with in their states. They were also asked to identify techniques (if any) used by organic and traditional producers to address these problems.

Where appropriate, techniques were implemented on cooperators farms to evaluate, refine and demonstrate their effectiveness. These included deer exclusion fences on the Flathead Reservation (Photo 1) and Fergus County, MT (Photo 3), ground squirrel control and economic effectiveness in Gallatin County, MT (Photo 4), various pocket gopher trapping strategies on an organic farm in Sandpoint, ID, and predator control and bird control evaluations on farms in Park County, MT. For some control methods, field tests and demonstrations were conducted on traditional farms to assess cost/effectiveness differences in traditional control methods versus methods that would be allowed on organic farms. For example, on the Gene Surber farm in Central Montana, on some plots traps were used to control ground squirrels and other plots rodenticides were used. Costs and differences in effectiveness were determined.

For Objective 3, workshops were held at in-service training sessions in Montana and Idaho for extension educators and agents (Photo 5). These workshops were designed to provide basic wildlife damage control training and provide access to resources so extension educators could address typical wildlife damage control requests from traditional and organic farmers. The Idaho workshop was held April 11, 2013 and 32 University of Idaho Extension Educators attended. The Montana workshop was held April 9, 2013 and 42 County and Reservation Agents attended.

A 2-day workshop was held in Bozeman, MT to provide more intensive and hands-on training for extension educators and NRCS personnel (Photo 6). This workshop was designed to train a group of people who would serve as expert resources for other extension faculty and NRCS personnel in Idaho and Montana. At this workshop, 21 participants were able to conduct wildlife control in the field and learned to identify damage, implement control techniques and determine potential preventative methods that could be used by traditional and organic farmers and ranchers.

A 6-hour online workshop covering Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage was broadcast February 20, 2014. This session was designed for extension county agents and educators and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) personnel in the western US. Over 25 Extension and NRCS staff from five states looged into at least part of the live broadcast. Over 200 people have viewed at least a portion of the archived on-line workshop.

The purpose of this workshop was to provide information and access to materials to address the most common wildlife damage questions extension agents receive. Species and associated problems to be addressed included ground squirrels, pocket gophers, voles, skunks, bats, deer, snakes, woodpeckers and other birds, woodchucks and beaver. The recorded sessions are available at: http://animalrange.montana.edu/extension/wildlifeprevent.htm

For Objective 4, extension educators and agents in Montana and Idaho now have the capacity and confidence to educate farmers so they can implement legal, effective, efficient and environmentally safe vertebrate pest control practices. Pre and post-workshop tests indicate participants increased their knowledge by 27% and after 1 year, participants at the 2-day workshop reported an average of 78% knowledge increase, 74% confidence increase and 62 % increase in their programming efforts related to wildlife damage control.

Although it is not possible to accurately measure large-scale increased profits of organic or traditional farmers through reduced crop losses due to vertebrate pests, demonstrations during this project indicate the economic benefits are significant. Mr. Gene Surber, a cooperating farmer in Manhattan, MT said the ground squirrel control we implemented resulted in at least ½ ton per acre increase in hay production on his farm. This corresponds with a recent study in Montana estimating 27% of alfalfa hayland is occupied by ground squirrels and there is a 17% decrease of production in those areas. This represents an average annual loss of $7000 (at $150/ton) per producer in Montana. If these estimates are correct, losses to ground squirrels may be as great as $14 million dollars annually in Montana for alfalfa hay alone.

Outreach and Publications

  1. MSU/WSARE Wildlife Damage Control Website: http://animalrange.montana.edu/extension/wildlifeprevent.htm (This website provides publications, videos and links to a variety of information on wildlife damage control for organic and traditional farmers.)
  2. Wildlife Damage Control for Organic Farmers. 2014. Knight, J.E. MSU Extension Handbook.
  3. Modifying Fences to Protect High-Value Pastures from Deer and Elk. 2014. Knight, James. E. MSU Extension MontGuide 201401AG. (This fact sheet explains how to modify existing livestock containment fences in a low-cost manner to prevent passage by deer or elk.)
  4. Effectiveness of Modifying Fences to Exclude Ungulates From High-Value Livestock Pastures. 2014. Knight, James E. Montana State University. Research Bulletin No. 4603. (This research bulletin describes the research and results comparing various fence designs to exclude deer and elk from high value pastures.)
  5. Control Methods for Ground Squirrels. 2014. Knight, James E. and Joe Parks. MSU Extension MontGuide MT201406AG.
  6. Setting and Baiting a Live Trap. 2014. Knight, J.E. MSU Extension Video.
  7. Setting the DK-1 Gopher Trap. 2014. Knight, J.E. MSU Extension Video.
  8. Opening a pocket gopher lateral tunnel. 2014. Knight, J.E. MSU Extension Video.
  9. Placing the DK-1 Gopher trap in a pocket gopher tunnel. 2014. Knight, J.E. MSU Extension Video.
  10. Setting a Conibear Body-Gripping Trap. 2014. Knight, J.E. MSU Extension Video.
  11. Placing a Conibear Body Gripping Trap for Ground Squirrels. 2014. Knight, J.E. MSU Extension Video.
  12. Building Vole Bait Stations. 2014. Knight, J.E. MSU Extension Video.
  13. Building Ground Squirrel Bait Stations. 2014. Knight, J.E. MSU Extension Video.
  14. Wildlife Damage Control for Organic Farmers Workshop. July 22, 2012. Greentree Naturals Organic Farm. Sandpoint, ID.
  15. Wildlife Damage Control for County and Reservation Agents Workshop. April 9, 2013. Montana State University, Extension Annual Conference. Bozeman, MT.
  16. Wildlife Damage Control for Extension Educators Workshop. April 11, 2013. University of Idaho, Extension Annual Conference. Moscow, ID.
  17. Workshop on the Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage. July 25-26, 2013. Bozeman, MT.
  18. Webinar on the Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage. February 20, 2014. Montana State University, Bozeman, MT. (Available at:  http://animalrange.montana.edu/extension/wildlifeprevent.htm )

Outcomes and impacts:

Objective 1 (Short –term outcome) We determined vertebrate pest control methods that currently existed or could be modified and developed for organic farmers. We gathered information through wildlife damage control experts, surveys of organic farmers, literature review and surveys of extension and agency vertebrate pest specialists.

Objective 2 (Short-term outcome) We identified suitability, economic costs, effectiveness and strategies to enhance usefulness of methods determined in Objective 1. Demonstrations and evaluations were conducted on the farms of five cooperating producers. They were selected based on location, species involved and logistical considerations.

Objective 3 (Medium-term outcome) We increased the vertebrate pest control knowledge and skills of extension educators, agents and NRCS personnel so they have the capacity to address the educational needs of both traditional and organic farmers. We conducted workshops, develop printed, video and web materials and conducted evaluations. A wildlife damage control website has been developed to provide a central place for extension educators and agents and NRCS personnel to access information and materials to address client educational needs.

Objective 4 (Long term outcome) Extension educators are now educating farmers so they can implement legal, effective, efficient and environmentally safe vertebrate pest control practices. This will increase profits of traditional and organic farmers through reduced crop losses due to vertebrate pests. Our survey indicated extension and NRCS educators who participated in the 2-day workshop have increased their educational efforts related to wildlife damage control by over 62%.

Pre and post-testing at the Idaho organic farmer’s workshop in Sandpoint, ID indicated 23% increased knowledge related to wildlife damage control on organic farms. At the beginning of the workshop, 23% of the participants reported they had a moderate or great deal of knowledge related to wildlife damage control. At the end of the workshop, 69% reported they had a moderate or great deal of knowledge related to wildlife damage control.

County educators at the Extension annual conference workshop in Idaho had a 23% increase in knowledge related to wildlife damage control after receiving the training. County and Reservation Extension Agents in Montana had a 26.5 % increase in knowledge after the field workshop training they received.

Pre and post-tests of Montana and Idaho County Educators and Agents and NRCS personnel who attended the 2 day workshop in Bozeman, MT indicated a 27% increase in knowledge after the intensive training.

Participants were surveyed 1 year after the workshop to assess longer term impacts of the training. Participants reported an average of 74% increase in their confidence to address wildlife damage questions they receive from farmers and they reported their knowledge related to wildlife damage control increased an average of 78% as a result of the 2-day workshop. The average participant reported they increased their wildlife damage control educational efforts by 62.5%.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

In Montana and Idaho, cooperators implemented and evaluated wildlife damage control techniques on demonstration areas. Videos and photos were taken to include in educational materials. Information related to effectiveness has been included in published materials.

In Lewistown, and on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, deer-proof fences were installed to demonstrate the effectiveness of 6-foot high fences in keeping deer out of gardens. These demonstrations also showed that existing fences could be modified by extending the height of posts and adding 2 feet of fencing above the current fence. This demonstration complemented research published at Montana State University which found elk, mule deer and whitetail deer were excluded 100% of the time from baited plots fenced with the modified fence design. The results in our demonstrations were also 100% effective. This information now provides farmers with a relatively inexpensive way (less than $1500/mile) to protect crops from deer and elk.

In Manhattan, MT a 2-year demonstration compared various ground squirrel control methods. Toxicants, zinc phosphide, Ramik Green and Rozol were compared to body gripping traps as methods of control. The anti-coagulant bait Rozol worked best when followed by continuous use of Ramik Green in bait stations. Control with zinc phosphide was hampered by early spring green up and poor bait acceptance. Body gripping traps were very effective but labor intensive. However, when using a large number of the traps, labor is reduced and this method provides a viable option for organic farmers.

In Livingston, MT, demonstration areas showed various techniques for excluding birds from raspberry and strawberry crops. Folding livestock panels covered with mesh wire allowed access to bedded strawberry patches while excluding birds. On other strawberry patches and on raspberry patches, stretched monofilament line was suspended above the plants to repel birds. Both the panels and the monofilament provided effective options that could be used by organic farmers. The Livingston demonstration area was also used to show the effectiveness of creating cleared areas around gardens to deter voles. Another ranch in Livingston was used to demonstrate and teach workshop participants various methods of coyote control.

In Sandpoint, ID, a cooperator implemented various wildlife damage control techniques in her organic garden. This farm was used for a field training workshop. Pocket gopher control methods were compared to demonstrate the effectiveness of various traps. The use of a DK-1 Gopher Getter resulted in quicker and more complete control of pocket gophers than the other types of traps that require locating and digging out the main pocket gopher runway. Because of the efficiency of this trap which is used in the opened lateral tunnel, it provided an economical and effective option for traditional farmers who use mechanical burrow builders to dispense toxicants.

Wildlife damage control workshops for extension agents and NRCS personnel in Montana and Idaho were held in each state in April. These workshops were designed to give agents a basic understanding of wildlife damage control and provide them with resources to address most questions their clientele might have. The intention was to provide some basic training, especially for those not able to attend the 2-day intensive workshop to be held in June. The Idaho workshop was held April 11, 2013 and 32 University of Idaho extension educators attended. The Montana workshop was held April 9, 2013 and 42 county and reservation agents attended.

A 2-day workshop was held in Bozeman, MT in June for 21 Idaho and Montana, extension educators and NRCS personnel. Various wildlife damage control techniques for birds, deer, carnivores and rodents were demonstrated and participants implemented control strategies at several field sites. These 21 participants now provide Idaho and Montana with resource people other extension and NRCS educators can utilize for wildlife damage expertise.

A 6-hour online workshop covering Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage was broadcast February 20, 2014. This session was designed for extension county agents and educators and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) personnel in the western US. The purpose of this workshop was to provide information and access to materials to address the most common wildlife damage questions extension agents receive. Species and associated problems to be addressed included ground squirrels, pocket gophers, voles, skunks, bats, deer, snakes, woodpeckers and other birds, woodchucks and beaver. The recorded sessions are available on the MSU/WSARE Wildlife Damage Control Website.

A website has been developed that provides access to all the materials developed as part of this project. This site also provides links to other resources related to wildlife damage control. The MSU/WSARE Wildlife Damage Control Website is  available at: http://animalrange.montana.edu/extension/wildlifeprevent.htm

A handbook, Wildlife Damage Control for Organic Farmers has been completed and reviewed and is available on the MSU/WSARE Wildlife Damage Control Website. The 37-page handbook covers the 10 wildlife species most often reported as problems for organic farmers. Non-chemical techniques are identified and discussed to address and prevent wildlife damage on organic farms. The eXtension, eOrganic website provides a link to this handbook. With the handbook are links to numerous short videos that provide visual instruction and demonstration to help users better understand the information. The short videos include:

  • Setting and baiting a live trap
  • Setting the DK 1 pocket gopher trap
  • Opening a pocket gopher lateral tunnel
  • Placing the DK 1 trap in a pocket gopher tunnel
  • Setting a conibear or body gripping trap
  • Placing a conibear or body gripping trap for ground squirrels
  • Building and using ground squirrel bait stations
  • Building vole bait stations

We have demonstrated that some of the same methods and techniques that can be used by organic farmers also provide relief for traditional farmers. Traditional farmers will benefit from new information providing options to control wildlife damage. For example, preventing pocket gopher damage to high value crops has been a continual frustration. Our work and other research has found specific traps, methods and timing of control can be more efficient and cost effective than traditional methods using toxicants.

Extension educators and NRCS personnel in Montana and Idaho are a major source of unbiased scientific information for all farmers including organic farmers. This project provided these professionals the training and tools to address the wildlife damage education needs of their clientele. The pre and post-workshop tests indicate a 25-30% increase in participant knowledge related to wildlife damage control. After the workshop 65% of the participants reported they had moderate or great deal of knowledge related to wildlife damage control.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

This project provides the basis and resources for extension faculty to become primary sources for information related to wildlife damage control on farms and ranches. By providing a group of trained colleagues and by having resource information available through the MSU/WSARE Wildlife Damage Control Website, extension educators will be able to address educational needs of organic and traditional farmers when contacted about wildlife damage issues.

Extension educators can now educate farmers so they can implement legal, effective, efficient and environmentally safe vertebrate pest control practices which will increase profits of organic and traditional farmers through reduced crop losses due to vertebrate pests.

Future Recommendations

During this project it became increasingly obvious that organic farmers have a great need for assistance related to wildlife damage control. Because of this need they are vulnerable to suggestions to try techniques and materials that are expensive and ineffective. Organic repellents, ultrasonic devices and a variety of concoctions are used with little or no benefits. We identified a need for universities and agencies involved in wildlife damage control to conduct research that will develop and test methods of repelling wildlife from crop areas. Specifically, reliable, motion activated devices show promise of keeping wildlife such as birds and deer away from crop areas. Unfortunately, those that are commercially available are unreliable and adjustments for distance of activation are inaccurate.

We also recommend that traditional farmers be encouraged to try more wildlife control techniques that are non-chemical. In addition to the environmental benefits, in many cases, trapping or exclusion provides control at a greatly reduced long-term cost. We expect that this project will make strides to that end but we hope more researchers and educators will encourage farmers to do the same.

 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.