For Some at TVA, It’s Groundhog Day Every Day

Just in time for Groundhog Day, take a look at all the nuisance animals TVA must deal with—from beavers and coyotes to ospreys and vultures—and the measures it takes to help peacefully find them new homes.

JANUARY 29, 2019—While “Punxsutawney Phil” and other celebrity groundhogs have never caused trouble for anyone, the same can’t always be said of their less pampered brethren. Since these furry rodents are in the spotlight on Groundhog Day, it’s a good time to learn from TVA’s Natural Resources organization about the kinds of animals that can cause operational concerns for TVA and be considered “nuisance” animals.

It’s obvious that blowing up “Mr. Gopher” as in “Caddyshack” is not the solution, so what do Natural Resources experts do to maintain the balance when animals are causing problems?

Pesky Critters

Burrowing animals like groundhogs can present a danger to TVA’s earthen dams. In the Tennessee Valley, animals such as vultures, raccoons, coyotes, bears, groundhogs and beavers can become “nuisance animals” when their behavior results in property damage or interferes with TVA’s operational processes. However, in natural circumstances they can be considered desirable because they play an important role in our ecosystem (coyotes, for example, often eat rodents—helping to control populations).

“It’s important to remember that just because it’s a certain species, that doesn’t automatically make it a nuisance,” explains R. J. Moore, Natural Resources senior specialist. “Location, behavior, damage and risk are factors that determine if an animal meets the criteria to be considered a nuisance. We look at all of the factors holistically and assess the risk or potential risk to TVA.”

For example, ospreys, bald eagles, red tail hawks and gulls are considered beautiful birds, and in the wild they are not seen as threatening. But when they choose to routinely roost or nest up high in towers, or on top of important dam infrastructure, an assessment must be made as to the potential risk to TVA and the species. If the situation qualifies as nuisance status, it must be addressed.

“We try to find a balance,” adds Moore. “First and foremost, we assess the situation, asking, ‘What is the risk to TVA?’ If there’s potential for damage, we must take corrective action. It’s the same with how we manage land. If we have a piece of property we are inviting the public to enjoy for recreation, we must also assess any potential health or safety issue and provide corrective action immediately.”

Move Along, Folks

Although the assumption might be that the only solution to removing a nuisance animal is to take it lethally, that’s not at all the case. Natural Resources employees have strict protocols they must follow. And some species are protected by various state and federal regulations such as the Migratory Bird Act.

“Standard protocol when addressing nuisance animals consists of harassment in an effort to cause the animal to relocate or change the problematic behavior. One tool that is typically employed is the use of pyrotechnics, such as flare pyros that consist of a heavy flash, followed by a long and loud whistling noise as it travels through the air, ending with a loud boom,” Moore says.

In certain situations placing an object nearby that constantly moves will provide enough of an incentive to be effective. The constant movement will deter some animals from sitting or roosting on a structure, and they will disperse to other locations.

Some bird species, like vultures, are temporarily frightened off when an ‘effigy’ is hung—a fake version of a dead vulture. When the vultures see the very realistic effigies hanging upside down it is often disturbing enough to convince them to leave.

Working Together to Find Solutions

“Nuisance animal damage control at TVA is addressed by United States Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services (USDA-WS) through a TVA-wide contract managed by a NR specialist,” explains David Brewster, Natural Resource Management, west operations manager.

“When dealing with these types of situations, we want to work with well-trained, knowledgeable professionals. USDA-WS provides the required depredation permits, environmental reviews and expertise to handle nuisance animal situations. This contract and partnership affords TVA the ability to adopt appropriate permitting and adherence to environmental regulations set forth by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service through USDA-WS to address nuisance animals impacting TVA property or operations.”

“We are responsible for approximately 293,000 acres of public land across the Tennessee Valley, so we always try to keep that in perspective,” adds Moore.

“Whether it’s ten vultures or one raccoon, we have to fully assess the situation and make the most informed decisions. We balance considerations for wildlife and ensuring that power generation and transmission is not compromised nor is safety ever compromised in any way,” he concludes. “It’s all part of being good stewards of the land and executing our mission of service to the people of the Tennessee Valley.”