Meet your merchant: Gold Country Wildlife Control employees have a dirty job, but they love it | TheUnion.com

Meet your merchant: Gold Country Wildlife Control employees have a dirty job, but they love it

Dalton Stephenson of Gold Country Wildlife Control holds a six-week old fox found under a Nevada City home. The company he owns with his wife, Sydney, focuses on the humane treatment of wildlife "pests."

Dalton Stephenson was 20 years old and working as a prep cook when an acquaintance came to him with an unusual request.

A Grass Valley property manager had skunks living under two of his rental properties and he wanted them out. Eager to raise a little extra cash, Dalton and his wife, Sydney, were up to the challenge. But being animal lovers, they didn't want to harm the skunks.

"So we went out and caught them in live cages," said Dalton. "Then we took extra care to cover the crawl spaces so nothing could get back in."

The experience sparked Sydney's curiosity. Who in the area, she wondered, is humanely removing wildlife, such as skunks, raccoons, bats, birds, foxes and squirrels? The couple went online and began to research.

"There weren't many such companies in California, so I started getting in touch with companies that were out of state," said Dalton. "We realized we wanted to learn more. We began traveling to places like Kentucky, Colorado and Orleans to ride along with wildlife control employees and attended seminars put on by the National Wildlife Control Operators Association."

The Stephensons were quick to realize that "nuisance wildlife control" requires a complex understanding of what is initially causing the "human-wildlife" conflict. The emphasis is on managing the property damage rather than managing the wildlife. This can include prevention, habitat management and coming up with ways to get animals safely out and preventing them from returning.

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"For example, one-way doors can be set up for bats and squirrels, so they can get out, but can't get back in," said Dalton. "Rather than just trapping and removing an animal, the emphasis should be on the repair, prevention and clean up, such as covering vents, filling in gaps and installing mesh that goes deep into the ground along the edge of a house. The animal is just a symptom of a problem on the property. If it's done right, wildlife control employees shouldn't have to come back."

In 2014, the husband-wife duo opened their Grass Valley business, "Gold Country Wildlife Control," and hit the ground running. They became two of only a few in the state to complete The National Wildlife Control Operators Association's Wildlife Control Operator Training Course and certification, and recently completed courses on humane bat and bird control.

"This industry is really undeveloped in the west," said Dalton. "We like to think we're helping to push ethical standards on the west coast. When it comes to humane treatment, California is under-regulated and under-enforced. The training and competency that Sydney and I have is higher than what the state requires. We are only a handful of people with this certification in California."

It was Sydney who initially saw potential in a niche market doing something that few others are willing to do — let alone have the qualifications. But the Nevada County junior high school sweethearts, both now 24 with daughters ages 6 and 3, say they are a rare breed. Despite exploring dark and dirty attics and crawl spaces, climbing 40-foot ladders to steep rooftops and encountering snakes and rats, they love their job.

"We've learned that people are actually crazier than animals," said Dalton, with a laugh. "We both have a love and respect for animals. My favorite are skunks — they're real sweethearts — they're one of the best tempered animals. Everyday in this industry is interesting, but it's terrifying to most people."

Dalton, Sydney and the small crew at Gold Country Wildlife Control are licensed and insured. Dalton, who is the bat specialist, gets regular rabies booster shots and has his blood tested. Despite the fact that only 1 to 3 percent of bats typically have the disease, he's not taking any chances.

The largest bat infestation Dalton says he's seen in Nevada County was in Chicago Park, boasting an estimated 200 bats. However, in an abandoned apartment building in Sacramento, he and a crew were sent in only to discover 5,000 to 10,000 bats, he said. The sound was so loud the crew had to shout back and forth to one another.

"We provide a warranty that guarantees they won't get back in," Dalton said. "Our goal is to allow the whole colony to safely relocate themselves. We find ways to passively lure animals out, then seal up the space so they can't get back in. Other pest control companies have customers that have them come back month after month, year after year.

"When we go out to see a customer, hopefully we won't be back again because we've solved the problem and cleaned up the space. We focus on prevention, repair and clean up. We warranty our repairs."

The crew once found 16 flying squirrels in a home in Nevada City, which is quite rare. They also found a six-week old fox trapped under a deck, also in Nevada City, which Dalton took with his children to a nearby wildlife rehabilitation center.

"Sometimes we feel like detectives — I mean, how do you outfox a fox? I love the variety and the challenge," said Dalton. "It's an exciting job — it keeps you on your toes. Our goal is to stay ethical and respect the animals as much as we can."

"Looking back, we started out trapping a couple of skunks under a house," said Sydney. "We've since learned so much about biology, construction and the wildlife in our area. This small job we first did on the side has now overtaken everything else. It's been an awesome experience."

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.

Gold Country Wildlife Control

Grass Valley

530-760-7103

Website: gcwildlifecontrol.com

Facebook: Gold Country Wildlife Control

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