State Laws

Handbook Contents | Legal Learning Objectives | Federal Laws and Regulations | New York State Laws | Local Regulations | NYS Endangered Species | Environmental Conservation Law | Resources | ICWDM | Wildlife Species Information


Legal Issues: State laws related to wildlife control

Environmental Conservation Law (ECL)

NY Department of Environmental Conservation

Regulatory agency: DEC

Applicable to: all New Yorkers. The sections that are most relevant to NWCOs are 11-0524, 11-0521, 11-0523, 11-0511, 11-0513, 11-0525, 11-0505, 11-0507, 11-0917, 11-1105 and 11-1101

License required: The NWCO license is required for certain activities (such as transporting wildlife) and to handle protected species.

Read the law:
online— Read the appropriate sections of Article 11, Titles 5, 9, 11
print—ECL Ch. 43-B of Consolidated Laws, Article 11 Titles 5, 9, 11

To check the legal status of a wildlife species in New York:

The Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) is the primary state law that regulates the activities of NWCOs. (For your reference, the full text of the appropriate sections of the ECL are included at the end of this chapter.) On July 30, 2002 Governor Pataki signed a new law about nuisance wildlife control, ECL 11-0524, which gave the DEC the authority to set new regulations and license conditions.

Getting and keeping a nuisance wildlife control license: the overview

To get a NWCO license, you must complete the application, pass the exam, and pay the license fee. The New York State nuisance wildlife control license authorizes you to act as an agent for a property owner or lessee. You must have a signed contract or written permission from that person stating that you have been hired to act as their agent to take nuisance wildlife on their property (this is a license condition).

When setting traps within 100 feet of a dwelling, school building, playground, or church, you must have the written consent of the owner or lessee of the property on which the trap is set. (This applies to anyone who’s trapping in those areas.)

You are allowed to take, temporarily possess, and transport any wildlife, except for those species detailed below, when that animal damages public or private property, or under conditions detailed in a permit issued by the DEC.

NWCOs in New York State shall NOT take, possess, or transport:

  • any species listed federally or in New York State as endangered or threatened;
  • any migratory birds (such as songbirds, waterfowl, birds of prey) without valid federal and state permits—with the few exceptions explained in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act;
  • any protected species unless it has caused damage or under conditions described in a DEC permit (except for nuisance crows on farms and nuisance skunks);
  • any white-tailed deer, black bear, beaver, otter, muskrat, fisher, bobcat, mink, marten, and wild turkey, without a valid state permit.

You may take wildlife only by lawful means, and only in a lawful manner. NWCOs must also exercise due care to safeguard the public from any animal they capture, possess, or move to another location.

After you’ve captured the nuisance animal, you can then: 1) release it to the wild; 2) humanely kill it, then bury or cremate it; or 3) if the animal is distressed or injured, transfer it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. When appropriate, healthy wild animals may be released on site, or they may be relocated, if you have permission from the owner of the property on which you’d like to release that animal. This is true whether the preferred release site is public or private land. You may not release an animal into another county without prior approval from that county’s DEC Regional Wildlife Manager. Wildlife taken outside of New York State may not be brought into the state under this license.

If the animal appears to be diseased, it must be humanely killed and buried or cremated, or otherwise disposed of as directed by the DEC Regional Wildlife Manager or the local county health department.

NWCOs must follow the directives of their DEC permits and the local county health department concerning the handling and disposal of bats, raccoons, and skunks (rabies vector species), and any other directives about rabies.

Animals that are distressed or injured but are good candidates for rehabilitation, such as young that have been orphaned, may be transferred to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Bats, raccoons, and skunks may only be transferred to rehabbers who have special facilities and approval to accept these rabies vector species, unless the NWCO receives other guidance from the DEC or the Department of Health.

While you’re working as a NWCO, you are required to carry a copy of your license (showing all of the license conditions) with you, on your person. You must present this license on request. You must also keep track of all of your NWCO jobs each day, using the log supplied by the DEC. These records, and any animals in your possession, must be available for inspection by a DEC Environmental Conservation Officer at any reasonable time.

The NWCO license is good for one year. (It expires on the date listed on the front of the license). It’s issued to you, not to a company, so it cannot be transferred. The license may be renewed by sending a written request, your previous year’s log, and the renewal fee to the DEC’s Special Licenses Unit, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4752, a month before your license expires (you can send the request any time during that month).

Whew! That’s a lot of information. Now, we’ll go over some of the points again, adding some details.

The species that NWCOs can or cannot handle

Which species can you handle?

In New York State, all wild animal species have legal classifications that are described in the Environmental Conservation Law. Their legal status determines several aspects of control efforts. Most commonly, the question is, can a NWCO “take” this species in this situation

Legally, “take” applies to the pursuit, capture, or killing of wildlife. This covers shooting, trapping, netting, “and all lesser acts such as disturbing, harrying, or worrying.” It refers to any device commonly used to capture or kill that species. The taking must be by lawful means, and in a lawful manner. (See the definitions in ECL 11-0103 on page 3-28).

There are many wildlife species that a NWCO can legally handle in New York State, so it’s actually easier to focus on the ones you cannot handle or must obtain special permits to handle legally.

It’s not your job. Definitely.

In New York State, you may not handle or take endangered or threatened species. This includes species that are endangered or threatened only within New York State, and those that are in trouble on a national basis, too.

The federal government maintains a list of federally threatened and endangered species. Each state tracks those species that are rare only within its borders. This means there are two lists you have to keep track of: the federal list, and the New York State list. To make this a little easier, we’ve included a chart at the end of this chapter which lists all of the wildlife species that are endangered or threatened in New York—and has columns to show whether those species are also federally listed. Contact the NYS DEC to find out if there have been any updates to the lists. The DEC keeps current lists of NYS endangered and threatened species and fact sheets about many of these species on its website.

Perhaps—just perhaps—in one of those rare situations that are about as likely to happen as winning it big in the lottery, you might receive a special DEC permit that would allow specific nonlethal controls for a state threatened or endangered species. Your chances of securing a permit for a species on the federal list are even slimmer.

Another no-no for NWCOs in New York: you cannot capture or kill a pigeon if it’s wearing a leg band.

It’s not your job, but…

Domestic animals, such as dogs and cats, are not covered by the Environmental Conservation Law because they’re not wildlife species. They’re regulated under NYS Agriculture and Markets regulations, Articles 26 and 7. Even if they’re feral and behave like wild animals, they are still considered domestic species. Although every town is legally required to have a dog control officer the same isn’t true for cats. In some areas, there may be inadequate services and customers may turn to you for help with feral cats, but there are thorny liability issues that make this a complicated and risky business.

It is your job, but say hello to a new boss.

Special care is given to the handling of mammals that are most likely to be carrying rabies. Known as “rabies vector species,” in New York State the ones to watch are bats, raccoons, and skunks.

Before you respond to a call about bats, raccoons, or skunks, call the local health authority. That’s either the county health department or the district office of the state health department.

You are required by law to follow the health department’s directions concerning the disposal of raccoons, skunks, and bats, no matter what the landowner requests. (Of course, you still have to follow DEC regulations, too). You are also legally required to follow any of the health department’s other directions related to the control of rabies. (If anyone disputes this, just show your NWCO license. It’s right there on the front page.)

The New York State Sanitary Code, which is enforced by the state health department, explains how to handle these situations in detail.

Special jobs require special permits

Federally protected wildlife

In some circumstances, the landowners may receive permission to capture or otherwise harm a federally protected species. This is handled on a case-by-case basis. The landowners need special depredation permits from both the federal government and the state government. Federally protected wildlife include migratory birds and nationally endangered or threatened species, as described previously.

There are very few situations that justify the issuance of a special permit for an endangered or threatened species. You may not harm them in any way. You can’t harass them or disturb their habitats. Of course, you’re not likely to encounter them while on the job, either.

Chances are, you’ll only get calls about a few federally protected species, most likely, Canada geese, woodpeckers, gulls, cormorants, and some birds of prey (usually hawks and owls). Most of them are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act but not by the Endangered Species Act, so you may have some more options.

Try a combination of nonlethal control methods first. This may solve the problem and will save you the hassle of the paperwork. Because you don’t need permits for most nonlethal control methods, you can probably deal with the situation right away, which may be appealing to your customer. Just remember that you can’t destroy eggs or disturb their young, or disturb a nest if there are eggs or young in it, because those actions are classified as “taking.”

You may be able to persuade the birds to leave by hazing them with dogs or frightening them with devices such as noisemakers and scarecrows. Or alter the conditions that make the site attractive to them, for example, by removing unnatural food sources such as garbage. Exclude them from the site by erecting fences. If that approach doesn’t work, call the DEC regional wildlife office to discuss the situation and seek the proper permits.

One postscript: the management of mute swans has changed, so NWCOs who have been in the business for some time may be used to an old approach. Previously, NWCOs were required to either kill mute swans or transfer them to a rehabber who had a special mute swan permit. Now, mute swans are managed like other migratory birds, so you need a federal permit to control them.

Game species

State and federal agencies manage game species primarily by controlling hunting and trapping. Some game species, such as muskrat, beaver, white-tailed deer, turkey, and black bear may become a nuisance on private property. What should you do if you’re asked to take care of a problem with one of these species? Tell the landowner to call the regional DEC wildlife office. If appropriate, the DEC will issue a special state permit that will allow certain control efforts.

NWCOs may take bears on residential land if they’ve first proven to the DEC that the animal is damaging the property or threatening public health or safety. Under those conditions, the DEC may issue a special permit. If the bear is killing or worrying livestock or destroying an apiary on cultivated land, the landowner (or you, as that person’s agent) may take the bear at any time. The landowner is then required to contact the DEC promptly, and to deliver the carcass to the DEC officer for disposal. If the landowner doesn’t want to get the state permit, you may once again use nonlethal control techniques. If the problem happens during a legal season for that species, you could advise the landowners to invite hunters or trappers onto their land.

If the landowner doesn’t want to get the state permit, you may once again use the nonlethal control techniques. If the problem happens during the legal season for that species, you could advise the landowners to invite hunters or trappers onto their land.

Next Section Local Regulations


Handbook Contents


Needs of People and wildlife

  • Six Questions NWCOs must ask

Federal Laws and Regulations

  • New York State Wildlife Control Laws
  • Local Regulations for Wildlife Control

Safety Risks for Customers

Best Practices for Wildlife Control

Resources for NWCOs


This manual was written as a guide to train nuisance wildlife control operators in New York State. Laws and regulations may differ in your state. Always consult local and state laws before implementing wildlife damage management activities.

Contact Information

Contact your local Extension Office


Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management
National Wildlife Control Operator’s Association
Wildlife Control


We thank the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for contributing this information.

Produced by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and the NYS Integrated Pest Management Program.