Pest-control hotline

News

For the past decade, McGill service has been helping find solutions for everything from invading raccoons to brown grass

Desperate to stop raccoons from visiting your compost? Want your grass to be aphid-free? Try calling McGill University's Urban Nature Information Service (UNIS), which has been offering invaluable tips to gardeners and cottagers for the past 10 years.

Currently staffed by McGill students Sophia Foley (a wildlife expert) and Dana Chevalier (a horticultural expert), the free hotline offers advice on how to shoo away skunks or combat fungi. The Urban Nature Information Service, active from May 1 to August 15, is run out of McGill's Macdonald Campus in Ste. Anne de Bellevue.

UNIS receives about 30 calls per day. Frequently, calls are about where to find shelters for hurt or orphaned animals. Another blazing issue for the hotline this season concerns aphids, which are eating up the Kentucky bluegrass on many lawns in Montreal's West Island. "We discourage people from using chemical treatments," Chevalier says.

Another recurrent problem is furry critters creeping through gardens. "A lot of people don't have much experience with animals so they're receptive to the information UNIS provides," says Foley, adding that simple solutions include covering up garbage cans or tidying the woodpile.

Callers often seek information on how to attract animals, too, especially birds and butterflies. UNIS staffers give advice on adding specific plants to gardens, such as safflower, that will attract finches, chickadees and cardinals.

David Bird, a McGill professor of natural resource science and one of the two academic supervisors of UNIS, says the service is invaluable. "Before UNIS, Macdonald Campus professors were inundated each summer with questions about what to do with skunk invasions and the like," he says. "We couldn't keep up with our academic work. UNIS is a great way of continuing McGill's tradition of service to the community while training young people in horticultural and wildlife public education."

McGill University's Urban Nature Information Service can be reached at 514-398-7882 or at www.agrenv.mcgill.ca/urban-nature. UNIS is supported by McGill's Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, several Montreal boroughs, the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation and MP Bird Control Systems.