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July 04, 2006 

The Pond Crashers

For many, the backyard pond invokes tranquil scenes of lily pads and water flowers. What some pond owners get instead are dive-bombing birds, carousing raccoons and koi-eating pythons.

The number of backyard ponds in the U.S. could reach six million this year, estimates Aquascape Designs, a pond manufacturer based in St. Charles, Ill., up from two million in 1996. But as more homeowners build backyard oases, more animals are treating those ponds as watering and feeding holes, as they dine on the expensive plants and decorative fish. In Ben Lomand, Calif., one homeowner has found mountain-lion tracks around her pond, while another in Wisconsin has played host to a roving bear. At Shoreline Wildlife Management in Clinton, Conn., pond problems account for almost 15% of its animal-control business.

That apparent shock -- that outdoor ponds can attract outdoor creatures -- has given rise to a cottage industry in keeping the animals at bay. Remedies range from products like water-spraying scarecrows and plastic bird decoys to more homespun solutions such as hair clippings and mothballs. Meanwhile, commercial animal-control services say they're doing more business fighting the pond scum that visit.

It is often a losing battle. When Melissa White of Lakewood, Wash., dug a 4,200-gallon pond last summer, she set off a chain of events that led to an invasion of winged wildlife. After spotting mosquito eggs in her pond, the psychotherapist tossed in a few larvae-eating mosquito fish. The insects disappeared but the fish multiplied, and she soon had hundreds of them darting between the comets and shubunkin.

Since then, White has been dive-bombed by a kingfisher that repeatedly stopped by for dinner and fought with a pair of mallards. "When I first saw them, I thought, 'How pastoral,' " she says. But when she saw duck droppings all over the yard, she took to chasing them while screaming, "You have other places to nest!"

A Misplaced Moose

Homeowners have long contended with rabbits and deer in the garden, and as development pushes farther out, more unusual species are creeping into human territory. Last month, a 200-pound black bear was shot and killed in New Jersey after it wandered through suburban and city streets for two days, and earlier this year, a 700-pound moose surfaced in New York's Westchester County.

The proliferation of ponds adds a new wrinkle. Critter Control, an animal-control company based in Traverse City, Mich., with 110 franchises nationwide, has seen an increase in pond business over the past five years. "People buy expensive fish, and raccoons keep eating them," says spokesman Sean Carruth. Shoreline Wildlife Management in Clinton, Conn., reports that business is up 50 percent over the past year, with most pond owners calling about problems with beavers and snapping turtles. Animals are being displaced by waterfront construction in the area, says owner Deanna Gorski, "so they're moving to where they can find water and shelter."

In Florida, the Miami Dade Fire Rescue Anti-Venom Unit gets about 400 calls a year from local residents who spot stray snakes and reptiles, including alligators, mostly swimming in their water gardens, pools and ponds, says Lt. Jeffrey Fobb. Last fall, the eight-year-old department fielded one plea from someone who had discovered a 10-foot-long python eating koi from his pond.

Companies are pushing a range of solutions. At Drs. Foster & Smith, a pet-supply catalog in Rhinelander, Wis., sales of products designed to deter wildlife grew 50 percent from 2004 to 2005, says Eric Reinhard, a merchandising manager for the catalog. (Reinhard knows the animal problem firsthand; he spotted a bear walking on a bridge over his backyard pond two years ago.) The catalog recently added several products in the pond department: live traps in three sizes, from squirrel ($30) to raccoon ($60), and a $72 motion-activated water spray, which delivers a three-second blast from a hose to scare away visitors.

Two years ago, Dan Pieragostini of Littleton, Colo., found a heron on the border of his pond, eating koi -- which had cost him $5 to $20 each. So he bought a $50 plastic heron decoy to scare away the live birds. The faux heron, which is anchored onto a pole in some shrubs, has kept the live ones away so far. Pieragostini toyed with the idea of putting a net over the water for extra protection, but didn't want to ruin the scenery.

For other pond owners, the remedies can lose their effectiveness quickly -- if they work at all. Jenetta Mahr has tried multiple strategies in her six-year battle with raccoons that forage for fish and rip apart expensive water plants in her pond. She once sprinkled a powder made from coyote, fox and bobcat urine around her property. The raccoons stayed away at first; six months later, they were back. It worked better than the human hair she scattered around the yard another time. She had heard that it can be a deterrent, and collected the clippings from a beauty shop. "The hair wound up blowing around for months," she says. "I kept finding clumps in the grass."
'I Keep Getting Shot'

Mahr, a hearing technician from Ben Lomand, Calif., managed to capture several raccoons live in traps. After driving them 10 miles away and releasing them in the mountains, more raccoons returned within days. Most recently, she set up a motion-detector sprinkler in her yard, but it has been more trouble than anything else. "I forget it's out there, so I keep getting shot with it," she says.

Still, the pond business continues to grow. About 15 percent of homes in the country have a water feature, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Aquascape Designs says its pond sales reached $55 million in 2005, up 28 percent over 2003. A pond can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars for a small, do-it-yourself plastic model to $8,000 for a fully-installed 11-foot-by-16-foot pond with a waterfall. Bridges, decks, benches, aquatic plants and decorative fish can bring the total cost to more than $10,000. Sales of all water-gardening products doubled over the past decade, according to the National Gardening Association; it's now a $870-million-a-year industry.

Don Bryan, who installed a pond in the backyard of his Wichita, Kan., home in March, woke up one morning to discover that something had eaten $200 worth of his aquatic plants. Soon afterward, he woke up at dawn and discovered the culprit bathing in the water: a muskrat. Following a remedy he found online, Bryan scattered cayenne pepper and a box of mothballs around the pond. The next morning, half of the mothballs were gone. The muskrat wasn't. "There's no muskrat love for me," he says.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Back to News/Press Releases >> Source: Lawn and Landscape Mag
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