Getting skunked
What to do with a stinky pest in the garden

Getting skunked

Turns out, it's not so easy to get rid of skunks in your garden./ Courtesy photo

Richard Rubin - 10/19/2023

Skunks love autumn, as our backyard gardens fill up with ripe vegetables. But in my northern New Mexico corn patch, that meant a determined skunk chowing down on ears of corn every night. What followed next was a conundrum: I wanted it gone but didn’t know how to make that happen.

My initial attempt, spreading coyote-urine crystals from the hardware store, failed to repel the raids. Then a Norteno gardener friend advised hanging mothballs in bags on the fence. Nope, no effect.

My plumber friend said he got rid of a big skunk family that took up residence under his mother’s house by borrowing a trap from the county’s agriculture extension agent. He used cat food as bait – but all he caught was cats. Switching to fresh eggshells, he said he caught the entire skunk family, one striped marauder at a time. 

A farmer neighbor’s advice was similar: “Get a Havahart trap.” I got one, and the skunk ended up inside, but then what?

I called Taos County Animal Control. The agent said they don’t handle skunks and gave me two options: a private critter-control outfit or dropping it off myself “somewhere in the mountains.” And oh yes, be sure to cover the trap with a tarp when you approach to block possible spray and minimize alarming the animal, because you know why.

Not wanting to release the skunk in the yard where it might spray my dogs, I recruited an agile friend to carry the cage about 400 yards away to a fallow field protected by a conservation easement. The corn-chomper was back the next night.

Then I read on the Havahart company website that skunks should be released at least 10 miles away. Somebody said that skunks had been dumped west of me across the Rio Grande Gorge in an area colloquially known as otra banda, a mix of private and public land.

This turned out to be a terrible idea. When I floated that alternative with Facebook group Taos Farm and Garden, I quickly learned that dumping a skunk across the gorge was anything but welcome. “Not near my back yard!” was the reaction.

The idea of dumping the skunk also led to accusations of animal cruelty, because I’d be removing the animal “from his family and home range.” A few people had an easy solution, though not one I liked: “Just shoot it.” 

What seemed doable was that early suggestion to drop off the skunk “somewhere” in the mountains, and I knew of some Bureau of Land Management land that included a National Conservation Area for wildlife. 

But first I called the Taos BLM office to check. The clerk commiserated with my garden losses, said they have no policy on this issue and directed me to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The main office in Santa Fe verified that trapping a skunk was legal on my own property and referred me to the local Taos game wardens. 

They said because skunks aren’t regulated as “non-game animals,” they could be moved to public lands where the BLM and the Forest Service have no restrictions on freeing trapped skunks. A solution at last.

So, wrapping the cage in a tarp, I drove the skunk 10 miles away to its new home, gave it time to adjust and then opened the trap door. Out it bolted, taking off at a fast waddle across the sagebrush. I hoped to never see it – or any member of its family – again.

Out of an abundance of caution, I set the trap again, because skunks are often seen at night traveling along the dry acequias (irrigation ditches) in my neighborhood. I learned that skunks have competitors for sardine bait – this one a tabby housecat without a collar. 

I let the cat go, and a week later, we’re eating corn without competition. Our trap still sits in the corn patch, unbaited but ready, just in case. Though, I know what to do now: Que sera, sera.

Richard Rubin is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He writes in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico, where he’s volunteer steward of the historic Aldo and Estella Leopold House, managed by the Forest Service. 

Top Stories

Lights, camera, action
02/29/2024
Lights, camera, action
By Missy Votel

DIFF returns for 19th year with something for everyone
 

Read More
We met at The Ranch
02/22/2024
We met at The Ranch
By Missy Votel

Finding true love at El Rancho does happen ... a lot

Read More
A trail to somewhere
02/15/2024
A trail to somewhere
By Jonathan Romeo

Grassroots effort launched to build Durango-to-Hermosa trail
 

Read More
Living to tell
02/15/2024
Living to tell
By Stina Sieg / Colorado Public Radio

As avi deaths mount, revisiting one survivor's harrowing tale

Read More
Read All in Top Stories

The Pole

Crying wolf
02/29/2024

Since 10 wolves were reintroduced to northern Colorado this winter, there have been more than 50 reported sightings via an online form on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website. Seeing as how it’s been a hot minute, or never, since most Coloradoans have seen a wolf, some reports have proven more helpful than others.

Numb nuts?
02/22/2024

Tired of saddle sores and chamois chafe? Well, settle in, because we’re about to have a really uncomfortable conversation. About bike seats.

The long haul
02/15/2024

Clocking in at 1.45 miles and 30 minutes of ducking and weaving through wall-to-wall people, shlepping from one end of DIA’s B Concourse to the other is no cake walk. But now, DIA travelers have someone to commiserate with. Apparently, Salt Lake City International Airport also has a B concourse with a death march from hell.

Sun's out, buns out
02/08/2024

For an upcoming girls ski weekend at Sunlight Mountain Resort, you can leave your boots on – but not much else. On March 29-30, the small, privately owned resort near Glenwood Springs will host the all-female “Boot Tan Fest,” complete with an end-of-day naked ski lap.

Read All Stories in the Pole