JoAnne Skelly: The vagaries of spring

I look forward to spring. The first nubs of bulbs poking up last week elated me since it is the middle of winter. And then, oh no! I’m slapped in the face with the realities of spring I would rather not confront.
I saw my first ground squirrel! I also saw the extensive tunneling damage the voles have done to our lawn, leaving shredded dead grass everywhere. Spring is not all lovely beauty!
The ground squirrel I saw was a big granddaddy of them all. I have read that if you catch this first one, before you see others, you can reduce the overall population. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m going on the hunt to capture this guy. Hopefully, early removal will provide some relief from these extremely annoying and destructive rodents.
They are the reason I no longer grow vegetables. Unless I build a garden with rolls of screening under, around and over it, I can’t keep up with their devastation to my crops.
I have grown tomatoes in huge pots, but I have to cover the entire container, the cage that supports the plant and the plant itself in a fine wire mesh. This makes harvesting tedious, because I have to open and close the caging whenever I want a tomato.
Unfortunately, the hawks, owls, bobcats and coyotes cannot keep up with the squirrel population. Habitat modifications such as removing wood, rock or brush piles have limited benefit.
According to University of California, Davis Integrated Pest Management Program, “Burrow fumigants, toxic baits, and traps currently are the most effective control methods.” Some of these methods are restricted use only and not available to homeowners. Fumigants work when you treat all the active burrow systems, but for safety, you must avoid any burrow systems that are near or come out under a building or other structure.
Late winter and early spring are the most effective control times for fumigants. Poisoned grain baits aren’t useful until early summer. These too need to be applied with care to avoid killing non-target critters, such as pets. Always read and follow the label.
I have avoided using chemical controls. They make me nervous, particularly after finding a dead barn owl in the yard that Department of Wildlife thought had been killed by eating a poisoned rodent. Supposedly, the squirrels go deep into a burrow to die, but I never wanted to test that.
Live trapping is the final option and when you catch one, you should kill it. See why I live with ground squirrels?
For information: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7438.html.

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