SACRAMENTO, CA -- It's skunk season in California. It's mating time for the smelly critters, which means you may be seeing more of them out and about.
Skunks typically mate in February and March and have litters in late April or May. The amount of food they find now may have an effect on how many of them we'll see in the spring and summer. Penny Cistaro with Sacramento Animal Services says skunks are strategic about their litters. If they find a good environment, they'll have more babies.
If a skunk sprays, it not only stinks, but also burns and can cause temporary blindness if it is sprayed directly into the eyes.
Skunks usually give some clear warning signs before they decide to let loose. If threatened, a skunk will stamp its front feet, arch its back, and shuffle away. If you don't leave right away, it will turn its posterior toward you, raise its tail, and release that smelly musk, which is a sulfur-alcohol compound.
If you do get sprayed, a popular remedy is: 1 quart 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda, and one teaspoon of liquid soap or dish detergent. Mix these together and wash the spray victim thoroughly.
Be sure to use this mixture immediately after it is created, because it's an unstable concoction. Rinse with tap water afterward, and repeat if necessary.
People who end up with a skunk on their property may be tempted to trap and release it in the woods, but Cistaro says that's actually illegal in california. She says skunks might not know how to survive in a new environment, and if there are other animals in the area, the skunk might get picked on.
If you want to trap the animal anyway, Sacramento County Wildlife Services has a program with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will place a trap on your property for $25. It's website says it will trap animals "that pose a threat to human or animal health and safety, or cause damage to property or livestock."
It is legal to kill a skunk if it's done humanely, but Cistaro doesn't recommend it. She recommends making sure your property is not wildlife friendly. Otherwise, other animals might move in right behind the skunks.
The first move is to eliminate any food sources, so don't leave out pet food and close your garbage tightly. They'll eat just about anything. Also, remove brush or wood piles where skunks might seek shelter. Locate any holes going under your home or spaces around pipes and fill them with cement or heavy duty wirecloth to prevent them from making a home in your crawl space.
If you already have a skunk problem, Cistaro recommends placing ammonia stations around your yard. To do that, saturate a rag with ammonia and place it in a bowl with additional ammonia, so it will wick it up through the night. Avoid lawn areas, though, because ammonia will burn grass.