Have a heart vs. have a garden

| 30 Aug 2012 | 02:58

On Groundhog Day, we love to see Punxsutawney Phil emerge from his burrow, ushering in spring. Come harvest time, he and his rodent brethren have become public enemy number one and we are ready do things we didn’t think ourselves capable of to get that infuriatingly chubby woodchuck out of our gardens. But wait, let’s think before we shoot.

It’s their home, too How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? A wildlife biologist at Cornell University once measured the inside volume of a typical woodchuck burrow and estimated, if wood filled the hole instead of dirt, the industrious animal would have chucked about 700 pounds worth.

As gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts, many of you have surely experienced the wrath of destruction this cute furry little creature can create. I have seen all sorts of damage, from gardens destroyed, to tunnel pathways throughout a well-landscaped lawn, to the destruction of pool, shed and house foundations. Heck, I have even seen them climb a fence and chew through a lettuce barrier to get to the space they desired. They are quite relentless if they have found what they are looking for—food, shelter, and a place to procreate.

Wildlife is so pure in its intentions. If we could all just sit back and realize that they are not looking to co-exist with us, then we will see that we have created the circumstance by encroaching on their natural habitat. The destruction they create is purely the result of their instinct to satisfy their basic needs. At Wildlife Busters, we believe in the humane resolution of wildlife damage management. They didn’t ask us to build in their backyard, so why should we destroy or euthanize them? We are philosophically aligned with Taoism and truly believe in the natural order, not the “man interfered” natural order. Woodchucks are not that difficult to trap once you understand their habits, and there are non-lethal traps to do the job. Once trapped, the animal can be relocated away from humans.

In addition to trapping, you can prevent wildlife damage through habitat modification, including trench prevention (installing a wire mesh barrier under a structure to keep digging wildlife out) and fencing. It is important to first understand where and why they are getting into the location. By modifying structures, habitat, and sometimes the behavior of the human residents, you can permanently resolve human-wildlife conflicts.

Ben Munger, founder, Wildlife Busters (wildlifebusters.com)

New Paltz, NY Not in my backyard

Not only will woodchucks climb fences to consume huge swaths of vegetation from our prized vegetable patches, they also dig extensive burrows underground that can cause serious structural damage to buildings. Their seasonal pattern is to eat throughout the warm season and hibernate all winter. Most people think the hardest part of getting rid of woodchucks it deciding whether to Havahart them, gas them, poison them or shoot them. The reality of it is a lot more complicated.

In New York, there are only a couple legal ways to remove these hungry rodents from your property, since the State Department of Conservation says that it is illegal to trap and move living wildlife because of the risk of spreading disease. You can hire a professional Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator to get ride of the groundhog humanely, which will cost over $200, and another woodchuck will probably move back into the old hole anyways. Or -- sorry, animal lovers -- you can “take” (pursue, shoot, hunt, kill, capture, trap, snare or net) a woodchuck in accordance with NYS laws and regulations.

If you’ve experienced a groundhog’s destruction, you’re probably thinking, “Great, Let’s shoot the bastards!” Well, the DEC wants you to get a hunting license. To get one you need to take a one-time, eight-hour class before you can pay $25 for a small-game sporting license. Then, and only then, is it legal to “take” those woodchucks and get your garden back. Just remember that New hyork has some strict gun laws, and you can’t get them if they are living under a structure because you might set it on fire!

So, my advice to you, my gardening friends: get a really good fence and top it off with electricity and bury it deep in the ground. Otherwise, we’ll just pretend we didn’t see you breaking the law.

And by the way, a friend of mine once cooked a woodchuck for dinner. It tasted like a mix between chicken and beef, delicious with some good sauce. Just remember, the Joy of Cooking says they have seven to nine kernel-like glands under their forearms to take out and need to be hung for 48 hours and soaked in saltwater overnight.

Rachael Doty, owner, Shawangunk Horticulture

New Hope, NY