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Slaughtering skunks isn’t scents-ible

It’s not quite as bad as putting a bullet in the head of a captured Bambi. But trapping and shooting a succession of Pepé Le Pew’s is no way for the city to enhance its image, move into the 21st century or – most of all – to solve Buffalo’s skunk problem.

The city this summer used a closed South Buffalo police station as a skunk slaughterhouse. Public works employees delivered the trapped animals to a firing squad. The odor of Eau de Pepé – eliminated by the expiring creatures – has for months wafted across the Old First Ward. It’s not a scent the neighbors want to bottle.

The story stinks in a few ways. The Shoot-’em Solution, although DEC-approved, seems barbaric (although not as bad as Amherst’s beaver trap-and-drown, a practice that – due to public outcry – mercifully ended last year). Although supposedly humane, a gunshot seems cruel and messy. The odor befouls nearby streets. And the Skunk Kill just doesn’t work.

Taking a skunk out of a hospitable backyard is like arresting a street-corner drug dealer. Move one out, another one – unless the environment changes – moves in. It’s a revolving trapdoor – a solution that deals with the symptom, not its source. “If you remove the animal, but not alter the availability of food or a den site, the problem just continues,” said Beverly Jones of the SPCA Serving Erie County.

The space under a porch or a garden shed is a four-star skunk hotel. Nail a board over a porch-wall hole, or dig wire mesh along the base of a shed, and the skunk moves on down the road. It’s the same with any “nuisance” animal – squirrel, raccoon, woodchuck. Give it a comfy den, don’t lock-down garbage and soon you have a friend.

Jones, an SPCA wildlife expert, said the agency is no fan of the city’s skunk-execution policy.

“We’re not pro-killing,” Jones told me. “It wouldn’t come to that if folks modified their environment.”

I’m not running for president of the Skunk Defense League. But few animals get such undeservedly bad PR. Skunks eat mice, rats, and the grubs and insects that ruin lawns. They don’t bother you unless you bother them.

“If they didn’t smell,” Jones said, “everyone would want one in their yard.”

Sacramento, Calif., is just one municipality that has washed its hands of skunk blood. It refuses to trap or kill the animals, instead urging people to make their yards skunk-hostile. A University of Arizona researcher suggested that folks simply live with the animals, which aren’t aggressive and seldom come out in daylight.

The smell is the thing. Skunks have an odor, even when they haven’t sprayed. Which doesn’t mean the city should shoot the creatures. Especially when killing Pepé simply doesn’t work.

Mea culpa: I wrote three columns in the last two years concerning or mentioning the efforts of charter school advocate Steven Polowitz. In them, I failed to note that Polowitz – whom I have known for more than 20 years – and I became partners in 2010 in a Florida investment property. The business relationship did not influence my stance on charter schools, which I have supported for more than a decade, nor did it affect my view of Polowitz’s charter school activism, which I had previously written about. Nonetheless, I should have disclosed the association.