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Cary Brunswick

June 16, 2010

Garden bounty hinges on fate of woodchuck

— I didn’t know woodchucks could flatten themselves out like a pancake, so I’m at the point where I’d like to flatten a few out with a twoby- four.

I’ve written with frustration before about the abundant wildlife in the city of Oneonta, but after building, fencing and planting a new garden this year, I’m ready to declare war on the groundhogs and deer.

And not only on them.

The squirrels have spread the word all over the Center City that our attic vent space is the best birthing room in town.

To keep them from chewing more of the house siding away, I’ve resigned myself to being their midwife.

Perhaps I should leave a Lamaze manual in the crawl space.

The best part is when the mom squirrels have to teach the youngsters how to get down from the top of the house, using the screen on the window just below their birthing area.

It takes a few days of a mom darting back and forth across the screen with the toddler watching. Meanwhile, the screen is being ripped to shreds.

Finally, the little one practices the descent several times and eventually makes it to the rooftop below.

When the next neighborhood squirrel gets pregnant and is ready to deliver, she enters the birthing space and the process is repeated.

I guess I’m lucky they don’t decide to move in permanently, which is why I haven’t taken more-serious _ and perhaps fatal for the squirrels _ measures to put an end to the scenario.

If only I could train the squirrels to hate woodchucks and protect the garden.

But that would be expecting too much, I know.

Even the cats stand idly by and watch as a woodchuck sniffs around the garden, looking for an entry point.

We haven’t had a resident woodchuck in the burrows on the hill behind the house every year, but one awoke from its winter’s hibernation early this year and could be seen scrambling across the slope in search of palatable vegetation _ patiently waiting for the succulent lettuce or spinach to sprout in our garden.

I assumed it was a male until last month, when a baby woodchuck appeared. Now, where does a female woodchuck go in the city of Oneonta to have sex?

There must be some promiscuous neighborhoods, because it was an early-season birth for a woodchuck.

According to the experts, woodchucks usually have about four babies per pregnancy, and when the young ones are old enough they’re booted out of the burrow and go somewhere else to live. In this case, however, the mom apparently has disappeared and a few of the young delinquents have remained.

But who knows? Like squirrels, they all look the same.

Maybe there’s only one woodchuck that keeps figuring out ways to contort its body in numerous ways to get into the garden.

If I didn’t know better, I might think it figured out a way to fly over the fence. But it hasn’t resorted to burrowing under the fence, so its MO has me baffled.

Anyhow, the point now is to figure out how to get rid of them (it) as humanely as possible; in other words, so that they survive the ordeal. One suggestion is to douse their burrow and the area around the garden with the scent of a predator (apparently I don’t count because it didn’t work).

OK, we have some neighbors with dogs. I could try gathering Fido’s scat, rifling it down the burrow and spreading it around the fence.

Warning: Watch where you walk after application. Then there’s trapping and forced relocation. This method is supposed to work, but with two cautions.

Make sure you don’t drop the chuck near someone else’s garden, and it’s possible the oversized rodent may die from the trauma of being exiled.

The motion produced by the wind on toy spinners or lightweight items tied to the fence is supposed to scare woodchucks away, but not these young varmints on our hill.

There are more-lethal approaches, such as shooting them (which you can’t do in the city), gassing the burrow and plugging the entrances (first making sure the critter is inside), and trapping and drowning in a nearby river. As frustrated as I am, I just can’t deliberately kill this woodchuck.

I’m ready to try capturing the thing, which is getting fatter by the day, and transporting to some desolate location, where I’m afraid it will have to make do with forest vegetation and not our chard and tomatoes. If it is traumatized by the move, then so be it.

Then I’ll be able concentrate on the deer, which are devouring our flowers and shrubs. CARY BRUNSWICK is a freelance editor and writer, and editor of oneontatoday.com. He can be reached at brunswick@earthling.net.

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