Wildlife is expected to be active this time of year, but one distinctive critter has upped the ante in Vernon Hills.
Skunks, village officials say, have been popping up at unexpected places and times -- often enough that corrective action is being taken.
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"It's been complained about enough they realize they have a problem that should be dealt with," said John Dynek, a state-registered trapper who has been hired by the village and Vernon Hills Park District to thin the skunk ranks.
Dozens of complaints received by the village and the park district have prompted the offensive, focused in the area of Deerpath Park.
"People have called and said, 'I can't even walk my dog,'" said Jeff Fougerousse, executive director of the park district.
Vernon Hills police say a community service officer recently was cornered by two skunks but got away without incident, and another officer was sprayed by a skunk while checking the village hall after hours.
"We're definitely not trying to eradicate skunks. Because of the proliferation, we're trying to reduce the population," Village Manager Mike Allison said.
Police dispatchers have been told to direct callers with skunk complaints to community service officer Lon Paulausky, who assembled and posted a "skunk page" with information, tips and links on the department's website, www.vhpd.com.
"It's not like a sci-fi film or anything like that," Paulausky said of the skunk numbers. "We agree it's best for the general ecosystem ... to reduce the population a little."
On Monday, Dynek and his wife, Ellie, proprietors of JD's Wildlife Services in Lake Villa, set six "live traps" baited with a secret homemade formula in discreet locations at Deerpath Park. Dynek said skunks are a top carrier of rabies and must be euthanized per the conditions of his Class A Nuisance Wildlife Removal permit. Any other animals caught in the traps will be released.
Skunks are nocturnal but have been seen at other times of the day in Vernon Hills. Insects, such as grubs, crickets and beetles, are their main diet in spring and summer. During fall and winter, they eat an equal amount of plant and animal food, including mice, young rabbits, voles and birds.
And they like to eat a lot now to build a thick layer of fat by the end of October, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
That skunks can have up to 10 offspring is another factor.
"You've got the time of year, mom has kicked them out and they're all looking for their own home," said Ellie Dynek.
"When they start competing for food, they get far more visible," she said.
That may put them close to homes, people and their pets, and there is a risk of rabies, she said.
"They're a little more brazen," Fougerousse said.
Tim Preuss, wildlife biologist for the Lake County Forest Preserve District, agreed the main reason people see more skunks this time of year is the youngsters are more active.
Preuss said the number of skunks appears to have increased the past few years, with more reported encounters.
The population was reduced in the early 1990s by an outbreak of rabies, but the numbers are cyclical and appear to be at a high point.
Natural processes likely will lower the number over time, he said.
Authorities stress the trapper is dealing with skunks only on public property.