Hiring Professionals

Module 11    Hiring Professionals

Sometimes conflicts with wildlife require professional expertise or assistance. The decision to contact a wildlife control operator (WCO) will vary by individual, the species of concern, and the location of the human-wildlife conflict. This module will help you determine if you need the services of a professional.

Learning Objectives

  1. Determine when professional help is needed to resolve a wildlife conflict.
  2. Explain how to locate and identify a qualified WCO.
  3. Explain how licenses and certifications apply to wildlife damage management (WDM).

When to Contact a WCO

Professionals can provide expert advice or actual control services. The reasons to contact a WCO fall into three general categories: legal issues, safety concerns, and other.

Legal issues

Consider contacting a WCO if the wildlife conflict involves any of the following:

  • Any animal species identified as threatened or endangered by your state or the federal government. This will require permits and the help of a licensed WCO. This will be rare, as most nuisance wildlife species are abundant.
  • When the problem animal is a bird, except for house sparrows, pigeons, and starlings. Nearly all other birds have protected status.
  • Situations involving domesticated species, such as livestock, dogs, and cats. However in some states (e.g., New York), the WCO license only covers wildlife, and does not include domesticated species.
  • If the client wants the animal transported alive off of his/her property. Some states (e.g., New York), do not allow landowners to move problem wildlife from their property (this requires a WCO license for transport). Also, movement of rabies-vector species (e.g., raccoons) may be restricted.

Safety concerns

In addition, consider contacting a WCO if the wildlife conflict involves any of the following:

  • When the environment is too dangerous, such as icy beaver ponds, extreme weather, or tall buildings.
  • When a disease outbreak (e.g., rabies), makes you too uncomfortable to work with wildlife.
  • When you lack expertise with the control devices needed to manage the situation.
  • When you don’t feel comfortable handling a species, perhaps because you are not familiar with its behavior or associated risks.
  • When a lethal control method and additional expertise is needed.

Other reasons

Here are other reasons for which you might consider contacting a WCO:

  • The problem requires a rapid resolution.
  • The issue has not been resolved by your own efforts.
  • You lack time and equipment to handle the concern.
  • You have physical disabilities that prevent you from being able to handle the problem.
  • The situation is particularly sensitive, such as at a school, day-care facility, or a location with high visibility.

Finding a Qualified WCO

Everyone knows that quality and expertise can vary greatly among service providers. A Yellow Page ad or website does not guarantee the company is legal or qualified. This situation is even more common in the field of wildlife damage management (WDM) because in several states, the WCO industry has few government regulations, and requires no professional training or certification.

We begin by defining some terms. First, you must understand that pest control operator (PCO), wildlife control operator (WCO), fur trapper, and animal control officer (ACO) are four different professions. At times, the activities of these professions overlap so keeping them separate can be confusing. We have provided a table to highlight similarities and differences between these professions (Table 1).

Table 1. Responsibilities of professionals that deal with wildlife and wildlife damage management.

Pest Control Operator (PCO) Wildlife Control Operator (WCO) Fur Trapper Animal Control Operator (ACO)
Regulatory agency Department of Agriculture or Environmental Conservation Department of Natural Resources, Game and Fish, or Environmental Conservation Department of Natural Resources, Game and Fish, or Environmental Conservation City and County Government
Manage Invertebrates, rats, mice, urban birds Vertebrate animals, including rats, mice, urban birds, and furbearers Furbearers Domestic species, dogs, cats
Extent of regulation Highly regulated Some regulation, but not all clearly stated and quite variable Clearly-defined state regulations Highly regulated, often a municipal worker
Control methods Pesticides and some traps Traps, direct capture, transport Traps Traps and nets
Number of visits Monthly Multiple visits until the problem is resolved Daily visits until harvest rate drops or season ends Often single and routine patrols
Equipment Step ladders Assorted ladders No ladders No ladders
Time with Client Regular visits One-time service Seasonal One-time visit
Payment By client By client By fur buyer Taxes and fees

To make matters more complicated, WCOs are known by a variety of terms, including wildlife controller, wildlife damage management professional, animal damage controller, nuisance trapper, nuisance wildlife control operator, and problem animal controller. We use the term WCO because “nuisance” doesn’t cover the diversity of problems associated with wildlife, and many do not like to refer to wildlife as a nuisance.

How qualified is the WCO?

Unfortunately, many states lack meaningful standards that individuals must meet before obtaining a WCO license. Often a person only needs to pass a simple exam or take a trapper education course to be licensed. Some states require no training or exam before granting licenses. With such low entry requirements, consumers should not assume that people offering to do WCO work are qualified to perform the service.

We suggest that consumers ask the following questions of the WCO, and get recommendations from others before hiring a WCO.

  • Consult with your state’s Conservation Officers and state wildlife agency staff. Ask them who they recommend in your area. Some states (e.g., New York) have lists of licensed WCO professionals who have taken a certification exam.
  • Is the WCO licensed or certified? Not all states require licenses, so check with your state wildlife agency before asking a WCO. Certification typically demonstrates a higher level of professionalism.
  • Ask the WCO for references from satisfied clients.
  • How many years has the WCO been involved in WDM? Don’t confuse this question with how many years the WCO has been in the pest control business. Controlling insects is very different from controlling wildlife.
  • Does the WCO have liability insurance? If so how much? Coverage of $300,000 is very easy to obtain in this industry. There is no excuse for not having liability insurance.
  • Does the WCO have Worker’s Compensation insurance? This insurance protects the worker if he or she gets injured on the job. Most WCOs are self-employed and may not be required by law to carry Worker’s Compensation, but they may if they have other employees.
  • Did the WCO present you with a variety of control options – exclusion, trapping, eviction, habitat modification, or perhaps suggest that nothing be done? Ask the WCO if other options are available.
  • Does the WCO clearly describe the service in a written contract?
  • Will the WCO provide services according to your preference and in accordance with local laws? Keep in mind that your preferences may change the duration and cost of the service.

Licenses and Certifications

Governments grant licenses to give individuals or companies legal permission to perform an activity. For example, you received a license from your state to drive a car. While a license may provide some evidence of competence, we suspect that most readers will realize that a driver’s license does not guarantee the individual is a responsible driver! Certifications, on the other hand, are bestowed by industry or educational groups to those who have fulfilled certain qualifications. Certifications are only as good as the standards and organizations behind them. Presently, the WCO industry has only a handful of certifications.

Basic Wildlife Control Operator (BWCO). The BWCO certification is granted by the National Wildlife Control Operators Association (NWCOA, http://www.nwcoa.com) to those who pass a 100-question objective exam based on the National Wildlife Control Training Program: Core Principles and Information produced by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Cornell University. The BWCO seeks to establish minimum competency for WCO work. Some states (e.g., Delaware, New York) have adopted the National Wildlife Control Training Program for licensing its wildlife control operators.

Certified Wildlife Control Professional (CWCP). The CWCP was designed by NWCOA to recognize WCOs who have demonstrated advanced competency in WDM. Individuals must have 3 years of full-time experience, complete 200 continuing education credits spread over three categories, sign an ethics statement, and pass a competency exam before being certified. Certification must be renewed every 5 years. A list of certified WCOs is available at NWCOA.com.

Bat Standards Compliant (BSC). Individuals obtaining the BSC have completed 4 hours of training and passed an exam on the proper handling and control of bats. This training does not detail how to specifically control bats. Instead, the training sets standards and protocols for properly working with bats.

Other certifications are granted by individual companies, such as bird control suppliers. Some WCO companies have internal certifications for their own work force. As the WDM industry matures, expect to see more training and certifications. Take the time to investigate the certification to see if it is meaningful.

The Cost of Hiring a WCO

Customers frequently are surprised at the cost of assistance in WDM. While costs can vary significantly between WCOs, keep in mind the many factors that impact prices.

  • How dangerous is the job? Ladder work always is dangerous.
  • How difficult is it to control the species? Some species, such as gray squirrels, are easy to control, while red squirrels can be more difficult.
  • How much travel and equipment is involved to resolve the problem? If the WCO has to travel 20 miles to reach your location, payment must at least cover the round trip cost of 40 miles.
  • What is the cost of living in your area? Often WCOs in urban areas are paid more than those residing in rural areas.
  • What kind of warranty or guarantee does the WCO provide? Depending on the species, a month to a year is sufficient. Also, guarantees are only as good as the company who gives them. If the company goes out of business, the guarantee means nothing.
  • Does the WCO have higher expenses due to insurance, good equipment, and training? While high prices don’t guarantee quality, extremely low prices almost always guarantee that the WCO lacks insurance, doesn’t have good equipment, or has not attended training or conferences to keep current with advances in the profession.
  • How busy is the WCO? Sometimes WCOs raise prices due to excessive demand. At other times, prices may be lower due to reduced demand.

Questions for Reflection

  1. List several reasons why a person should hire a professional WCO.
  1. Why is a license to perform wildlife control not enough to assure quality workmanship?
  1. What is the difference between licensing and certification?
  1. List three questions every customer should ask before hiring a WCO.
  1. What are the licensing requirements for WCOs in your state?