Rarely seen in Utah till the 1960s, the raccoon has become the state’s number one urban wildlife problem. Contrary to what many people believe, raccoon populations are generally higher in urban settings than in farming areas, says James Barnhill, Utah State University Extension agent in Weber County. This is due mainly to the increased availability of food, water and den sites in the residential environment. Once raccoons move into a housing area their populations can increase rapidly. A study in urban Toronto, Canada reported over 160 raccoons per square mile.

Raccoons as nocturnal creatures usually den up during the day, and come out to forage at night, Barnhill says. They often feed in garbage cans, scattering debris across the yard. They can tear up lawns and newly laid sod searching for grubs and worms. They eat pet food and sometimes even small pets. They are very strong, and can be ferocious fighters, if cornered. They will tear off shingles and fascia boards to gain access to attics, and often create fire hazards by plugging uncapped chimneys with nesting materials when they make their dens.

In the agricultural community raccoons do extensive damage, he says. Sweet corn is one of their favorites.They also feed on various fruits and vegetables, kill poultry and damage plastic irrigation systems and silage pit covers. They sometimes eat the protein supplements that dairymen feed to their cows. This makes it unusable as it is contaminated by fecal waste left in the manger. “The impact of raccoons on other wildlife is significant,” Barnhill says. “They are a major predator of bird nests, consuming both the eggs and young birds, Barnhill says. They are partially responsible for a decline in duck, pheasant and songbird numbers. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Box Elder County removes around 300 raccoons each year in an attempt to control their impact.” In addition to their other disruptive habits, of the major concerns regarding raccoons are the diseases they carry, he says. In the eastern United States raccoons are the major wildlife host of rabies. Fortunately, rabies has not been identified in our Utah raccoon population. Raccoon feces often contain roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis) eggs, Barnhill says. If ingested, the larvas from these eggs hatch and migrate through the tissues of the body. This can damage the brain or optic nerve in the host animal, causing severe neurological damage, blindness or death. Raccoons have also been known to transmit canine distemper, Aleutians and several other diseases. Live catch traps are recommended for controlling raccoons, he says. These traps need to be made of heavy material, and should be at least 10 inches x 12 inches x 32 inches. They cost about $50, but it isn’t always necessary to purchase them. The State Wildlife Resources office has traps that they loan out in exchange for a refundable deposit.

“Many homeowners use tuna fish, peanut butter or canned cat food as bait, but using fruit is recommended to avoid catching dogs and cats,” Barnhill says. “Commercial raccoon bait, called “Raccoon Lure”, is cherry scented, fruit-based, and is available for $10 per 8 ounces.”

If trapping a raccoon becomes necessary, be aware that state law prohibits the release of these animals, Barnhill warns. No one wants a relocated nuisance to return to the original site. In addition, studies indicate that relocated raccoons have a 50 percent, or higher, mortality rate within three months, due largely to problems getting oriented to the resources of their new location.


By: Dennis Hinkamp - Dec. 9, 2003