October 10, 2013
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
When he was a kid, Michael Niemeyer found adventure in the outdoors, discovering and interacting with as many animals as he could find in south Alabama. As an adult, he’s turned that passion into a vocation.
Niemeyer and J.J. McCool formed a business, Wildlife Solutions, that deals with the outdoors as a whole. McCool specializes in habitat restoration and enhancement. Niemeyer is the “critter getter,” handling the nuisance animal aspect of the operation.
“Every day of my life that I was not in school, I was in the woods catching snakes, catching turtles, learning how to trap animals,” Niemeyer said. “I was the kid drawing snakes in class in the third grade. I was the kid bringing cottonmouths or snapping turtles to school for show and tell. I knew that when I grew up I wanted a job dealing with animals or in conservation. It kind of fell in place, really. I found a job in animal control in Atlanta, but when I got there, they said they had filled the job, but they wanted to open new territory. So they sent me to Mobile, Alabama, right back home. I was born in Fairhope.”
When Niemeyer met McCool, they decided to form a partnership that would cover the majority of the aspects of dealing with wildlife.
“I have a vast respect for these animals that provide me with a living,” Niemeyer said. “I’m amazed at how smart and persistent these animals are. We closed a house to squirrels, and they started eating the house. I did a job in Mobile a few months back where we evicted all the raccoons in the attics in an apartment complex. Two weeks after we had evicted them, we were called back. The raccoons had actually ripped the shingles off the ridge cap in two of the buildings to get back in.
“I still get excited when I see a big cottonmouth or when a mother raccoon with kits charges me in an attic. The one thing I can say about my job is I’ve never been bored. If I was sitting at a desk, I’d be bored out of my mind. With my job, you never know what’s going to happen. The phone could ring with something intense.”
Niemeyer said the nuisance calls tend to be on a seasonal basis. In the late summer and early fall, bats are the most common call. When the cold fronts start moving through in the fall, the squirrel and rat seasons begin.
“Squirrels are looking for a place to have their young,” he said. “Rats are a problem year-round, but in the winter they’re looking for safe harbor in a warm attic. From May to June, it’s gangbusters for raccoons. People often think they have squirrels, but if it’s from May through the summer, it’s raccoons, and 95 percent of the time they have babies. Those babies are tucked inside walls all over the house. The majority of the raccoons are not aggressive, but we have some that are ready to roll. They will defend those babies to the death, and they have sharp teeth and claws.”
In the wintertime, the rodent problems include beavers, which is an animal that requires special consideration.
“Beaver trapping I equate to turkey hunting,” Niemeyer said. “Beavers learn from mistakes. You have to basically interact with that beaver and fool him or her into a false sense of security. And you have to hit them hard. You can’t just put out one or two traps. You want to hit them with everything you’ve got the first day.
“Animals are smart. Most wildlife issues are not something that the layman can handle. If poison was the answer, we’d go out of business. If moth balls were the answer, we’d go out of business. People think moth balls are the answer to everything. Moth balls do not work on anything, except maybe moths. I had a gentleman ruin his attic with moth balls. He read on the Internet to use moth balls to get rid of animals. He had raccoons in the attic, so he took five or six boxes of moth balls and spread them throughout his attic. Come July, they couldn’t live in the house anymore. I had to wear a respirator in the attic, but the raccoons were still there.”
Although raccoons may look soft and cuddly, Niemeyer said they are not to be taken lightly.
“That raccoon in your attic is destroying it,” he said. “They don’t respect your home. They don’t leave to go to the bathroom. Your attic is not getting cleaner by the day. And animals don’t leave on their own. There are no predators up there, and there’s all this fluffy stuff to have babies in.”
That’s where Wildlife Solutions comes in to remove the animals, clean up and repair the damage. Then the entry points for the animals are closed to ensure the animals can’t get back in.
“If you don’t close the house, they are going to keep coming back and getting in,” Niemeyer said. “We’re contractors who catch animals is a good way to put it. I believe in what I do, wholeheartedly. I’ve dedicated my life to it at this point. As long as we build homes near wild animals, we’ll have plenty of business. Animals are just like us, they’re trying to find a better home. Trees are nice, but that attic is much nicer.”
Niemeyer said there are times when they have to use lethal methods to control the nuisance animals.
“There are certain animals that we legally cannot relocate,” he said. “Wild hogs have clear regulations stating that those animals can’t be moved alive. We have an area in Monroe County where we trap hogs. We have taken 2,000 hogs off of that 120 acres in two years. You can’t trap all of them, but you can make them move.
“There are birds where we have to use lethal measures. You’ve got Canada geese. They’re Canada geese, not Alabama geese. People have to understand that if these geese are defecating where it gets into the water where children swim, something has to be done. When the animals have no natural predators, we have to step in sometimes. People think they’re nice to look at until they’re in their yard, leaving droppings everywhere and eating up their grass.”
At times, Niemeyer says he feels the wrath of people who don’t understand what animal control is all about.
“We walk a tightrope on that every day,” he said. “We respect animals. I don’t humanize them, but they have a place. As long as humans are developing woodlands, animals are going to adapt to living in our neighborhoods. They already have. I’ve read that there are more raccoons now than ever before in natural history. There are more beavers now than ever before.”
What Niemeyer has trouble with is people ranking animals in terms of how they look.
“Sometimes because it’s cute and furry, some people want to give them special rights,” he said. “Some people want us to kill every rat in the neighborhood, but not touch the squirrels. It’s perfectly acceptable to chop a snake’s head off, but if you shoot an invasive starling some people get upset. It’s really a double standard, and it’s unfortunate. God made some animals to eat other animals. He made some animals to eat plants. Somehow the animal that eats other animals is evil, and the animals that eat plants are cute and cuddly. It’s something we deal with almost daily.”
Niemeyer said he fully understands why Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries is declining to get involved with nuisance animals in most cases.
“They just don’t have enough personnel,” he said. “There are days when I get 12 to 15 calls.
“Unless there’s a black bear trying to break into someone’s house or an alligator in the front yard, I don’t see how Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries could possibly respond to nuisance animal calls.”
Visit http://www.outdooralabama.com/watchable-wildlife/nuisance/ for more information an options available for dealing with nuisance animals.
PHOTOS: (By David Rainer) Michael Niemeyer of Wildlife Solutions gets ready to set a Conibear trap for beavers in a drainage ditch in the Daphne city limits. Niemeyer sets a leg-hold trap on a beaver dam which had been cleared only a few months before. Niemeyer said beaver trapping is akin to turkey hunting in that the animals have to be outsmarted to have any success.