March 2014

Something Stinky Happening on the Hill

Sasha Lekach

That stinky odor lingering throughout the Hill can be blamed on skunks encroaching on residents’ backyards, as humans and wildlife endure one of the state’s driest winters in decades.

Rhonda Stoffel, 52, has lived at De Haro Street and Southern Heights for almost 20 years. She believes that more skunks are out and about this winter. She’s noticed on her early morning walks with her dog Rocco an increasing number of the critters near Missouri and 19th streets, Wisconsin and 22nd streets near the fire station and on Southern Heights between Carolina and Rhode Island streets. In the past few months she’s had a brazen skunk stop in its track and “stare us down.” Her dog, a German shepherd mix, “was going bananas.” The critters “seem really bold” and “well-fed,” Stoffel said. She advised dog owners to keep their eyes peeled while walking their animals at dawn and dusk, which is when the skunks tend to roam.

“A lot of the other neighbors, they also have been noticing the skunks too,” Stoffel, a floral designer in the East Bay, said. She claimed raccoons have always been common, while skunk sightings, “that’s a new thing.”

According to Rebecca Dmytryk, of the Moss Landing-based Wildlife Emergency Services, skunks are a natural part of an urban ecosystem. By eating rodents “they do us a great service,” she said. Typically, “skunks are attracted to properties that feed birds, because mice and rats come after the loose seed.”

She noted that mating season for skunks usually begins in February. But the warm, dry weather has prompted a premature birthing season, which may be contributing to the seemingly increasing number of baby skunks spotted around the neighborhood. With mild weather the animals can breed almost year-round.

The drought is also bringing out “odd behavior,” with skunks and other wildlife going into people’s yards looking for sustenance, such as grub, because normal food sources aren’t available. They’re also “attracted to our artificial, urban environments,” where food scraps are plentiful. Most city critters, including skunks, are “looking for places to hole up and have babies,” Dmytryk said.

Skunks “get into a lot of trouble in our urban environments,” she said, noting that they’re poor climbers that get trapped easily in walls and fences. She advised homeowners to keep an eye out for spots where skunks can get stuck. To make up for their lack of climbing skills, the animals are excellent diggers.

Residents should be careful about trapping skunks, raccoons, possums and other critters, Dmytryk advised, as there are strict state laws regulating how humans should interact with the animals. Instead, she encouraged residents to contact a wildlife rescue center when dealing with skunks or raccoons found on their property.

As for Potrero Hill dogs and their owners, Dmytryk advised avoiding getting sprayed. But if it does happen owners should find a recipe to make a concoction to wash out the stink that includes peroxide, soap and baking soda.

For help dealing with wildlife call (855) 5-HUMANE

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