The Mae and Harris Greene family haven't spent a night in their Old Town home since awakening Nov. 29, 2011, to a strong skunk odor. Thirteen skunks have been trapped from the home's crawl space.

Photo by Tom Ross

The Mae and Harris Greene family haven't spent a night in their Old Town home since awakening Nov. 29, 2011, to a strong skunk odor. Thirteen skunks have been trapped from the home's crawl space.

Steamboat family kicked out of home by skunk colony

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Know the rules

It’s illegal to discharge a firearm in the Steamboat Springs city limits, so trapping a nuisance skunk and shooting it in the backyard is not an option.

However, Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins confirmed there are circumstances in which people legally may remove a problem skunk “in a lethal fashion.”

“We don’t relocate skunks for people, and we actually don’t encourage relocating them,” Haskins said.

He explained that skunks and raccoons are known to carry disease — more often distemper than rabies.

However, a homeowner legally could trap a skunk and relocate it within a 10-mile radius of where it was trapped. Complicating skunk regulations somewhat is the fact they are regarded as furbearing game animals, and there is a hunting season on the animals from Nov. 1 through the end of February.

“It’s almost unheard of anymore that, from a furbearing standpoint, anyone hunts skunks,” Haskins said.

On the other hand, it is legal for anyone experiencing property damage to lethally remove a skunk. (Again, no discharging of firearms in town.) And in those circumstances, no hunting license is needed and the property owner isn’t required to contact the local office of the Division of Parks and Wildlife.

— Steamboat residents with wayward dogs are apt to know what it means to get skunked. But few have spent a winter in skunk hell like Old Town residents Mae and Harris Greene and their two children have. The Greenes haven’t slept in their home since Nov. 29. That was the morning the colony of skunks living in the crawl space of the home on the east end of Spruce Street made its presence known.

“We thought we were dying from a gas leak when it first woke us from a dead sleep at 4 a.m.,” Mae Greene said. “You couldn’t be in the house. It was vile like nothing I’ve ever encountered. It irritated my eyes and throat. We didn’t know we had at least 13 or 14 skunks living there.”

Fortunately for the Greene family, they owned a condominium they could move into.

Greene hired a local pest-removal expert who trapped 13 skunks, sometimes two a night, out from under her home and relocated them.

“One of them weighed 13 pounds,” she said.

Skunks do not hibernate but spend long weeks of inactivity in the depth of winter.

The Greenes were optimistic that the removal of the trapped skunks would make it safe to return to their home for the holidays once the latent odor had dissipated. But when the family attempted to move back in time for Christmas, they were confronted by that evil odor again.

In the interim, Greene had been working diligently with the carrier of her homeowner insurance policy to file a claim. When the acrid essence of skunk musk reappeared, she got in contact with a Lakewood pest-removal expert who had more experience with insurance claims.

Jake Trujillo, of EnviroCritter, assumed that the lingering stench was attributable to a dead skunk in the crawl space and brought his Jack Russell terrier along to Steamboat to ferret out the deceased polecat, Greene said.

The brave little dog was bloodied by a very large, very much alive skunk that sprayed it so badly that its snout was green with the musk and it passed out, Greene said.

Homeowners beware

Greene said that she originally did not want to draw attention to her skunk problem but that after the last episode with the skunk and the Jack Russell terrier, she resolved to warn her neighbors.

“I think we have a big skunk problem in Old Town,” she said.

Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins urged Routt County residents to skunk-proof their properties.

“People need to be diligent and do everything to avoid access, or you will have a terrible problem,” Haskins said. “It can get crazy.”

Skunks are drawn to crawl spaces, he said, and screening them with impenetrable material like corrugated steel can be effective. But keep in mind, Greene said, that skunks are exceptional diggers. The animals that invaded her crawl space entered through what originally was a small hole in the river rock foundation. Trujillo has placed a trap with a one-way door at the hole in the foundation, hoping to capture the remaining skunk.

City of Steamboat Springs Animal Control Officer Jennifer Good said when her office receives calls about nuisance skunks, they refer the property owner to one of the professional services listed in the phone book.

Haskins said he is aware of narrow tube traps on the market that are promoted as being odorless because the dimensions of the tube prevents skunks from raising their tails to spray musk from their scent glands.

But the best defense against skunks is prevention, Good said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Kristopher Hammond 2 years, 2 months ago

Isn't there a guy in town who specializes in shooting unwanted animals? I think I read about that somewhere...

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Carrie Wise 2 years ago

Woken by the smell at 4AM on the 29th? So, what, the skunks moved in at midnight and had a PAR-TAY? How could one not be aware prior to that that the skunks were there? They move, they wiggle, they speak skunk language, their claws scrape in the dirt and rock as they dig. There are gnashing sounds if they are chewing on wood. They defecate, urinate and perhaps even spray. There is a dog in one of the exterior house photos. If that is their dog, it had to have been aware, and indicated in some way that there was something going on. Whining, sniffing around the foundation, staring intently at the floor when in the house, something. Not to mention the skunkprints around the house and leading to and from the house. In all that time none of the neighbors had a skunk sighting or an alarm from the pets in the area? Were the humans were not in residence prior to the 29th? But the minute you open the door before you even turn up the heat, the evidence would be hitting you in the nose. The story states “Skunks do not hibernate but spend long weeks of inactivity in the depth of winter.” Unless winter started in September, late November isn’t usually considered the ‘Depth of Winter’. Feel bad for the house. Someone definately got 'skunked'.

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