A groundhog. (Photo: Contributed)

Though celebrity groundhogs like Punxsutawney Phil have never caused trouble for anyone, the same can’t be said of their wild brethren.

With the furry rodents in the spotlight on Groundhog Day, it’s a good time to learn from the TVA’s natural resources organization about critters that can cause operational concerns for TVA and be considered “nuisance animals.”

Burrowing animals like groundhogs can endanger TVA’s earthen dams.

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Vultures, raccoons, coyotes, bears, groundhogs and beavers can become nuisance animals when their behavior results in property damage or interferes with TVA’s operational processes.

But in natural circumstances, they can be considered desirable because they play an important role in our ecosystem. For example, coyotes help control rodent populations.

“It’s important to remember that just because it’s a certain species, that doesn’t automatically make it a nuisance,” R.J. Moore, natural resources senior specialist, said. “Location, behavior, damage and risk are factors that determine if an animal meets the criteria to be considered a nuisance. We look at all of the factors holistically and assess the risk or potential risk to TVA.”

For example, ospreys, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks and gulls, considered beautiful birds and not seen as threatening in the wild, can roost or nest high in towers or on top of dam infrastructure, where they may pose a risk to TVA or the species.

Moore said:

We try to find a balance. First and foremost, we assess the situation, asking, “What is the risk to TVA?” If there’s potential for damage, we must take corrective action. It’s the same with how we manage land. If we have a piece of property we are inviting the public to enjoy for recreation, we must assess any potential health or safety issue and provide corrective action immediately.

Move along, folks
Don’t assume the only way to remove a nuisance animal is to take it lethally, as that’s not at all the case. Natural resources employees must follow strict protocols. And some species are protected by various state and federal regulations, such as the Migratory Bird Act.

Moore said:

Standard protocol when addressing nuisance animals consists of harassment in an effort to cause the animal to relocate or change the problematic behavior. One tool typically employed is the use of pyrotechnics, such as flare pyros that consist of a heavy flash, followed by a long and loud whistling noise as it travels through the air, ending with a loud boom.

In some situations, placing an object nearby that constantly moves will provide an effective incentive, deterring some animals from sitting or roosting on a structure and getting them to disperse to other locations.

Some birds, like vultures, are temporarily frightened off when an “effigy”—a fake dead vulture—is hung. Seeing the realistic effigies hanging upside down will often convince them to leave.

Working together to find solutions
Nuisance animal damage control at TVA is addressed by the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services Division, according to David Brewster, natural resources management, west operations manager.

“When dealing with these types of situations, we want to work with well-trained, knowledgeable professionals,” he said. “USDA-WS provides the required depredation permits, environmental reviews and expertise to handle nuisance animal situations.”

He said they must also keep in mind that they are responsible for 293,000 acres of public land in the Tennessee Valley.

“Whether it’s 10 vultures or one raccoon, we have to fully assess the situation and make the most informed decisions,” he said. “We balance considerations for wildlife and ensuring that power generation and transmission [are] not compromised in any way.”

Click here to learn what TVA has been doing about double-crested cormorants, which have begun residing year-round on islands in Guntersville Reservoir, once only a winter home for the birds.

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