Natural predators keep the balance of nature to reduce overpopulation. Like most animals, groundhogs have a sense that allows them to breed to keep the species alive in areas of extreme danger; as the danger is removed, instead of breeding, groundhogs will actually stabilize population growth. Hunters and farmers claim groundhogs leave holes that can damage tractors or cause injuries to horses and livestock. However, the perceived reality of that happening may be far greater than the actual risk, according to Simon.
The second major reason people kill groundhogs is because of fear. "At least half the calls we get," says Simon, "is because people are afraid that groundhogs will attack them." But, groundhogs, says Simon, "are benign shy animals that will retreat to their burrows when they see humans, even small children, coming close."
The third major reason people want to kill groundhogs is because the animals, in search for food, will destroy gardens. Ironically, the deforestation of America has allowed groundhogs to flourish. They prefer to build their complex multi-level burrows on open ground at the edge of forests. This open view gives them protection from predators, while providing sources for their appetite for grub, grasshoppers, earthworms, berries, and various fruits and some vegetables; for water, they eat grasses and leaves. But as agricultural land is also destroyed to allow the construction of everything from parking lots to condos to supermarkets, groundhogs, like most species, are shoved from their own homes. That's when homeowners see the holes in their lawns and some garden crops chewed up. Animal-friendly gardeners will plant extra so animals and humans can share the food.
Some of the methods to get rid of groundhogs cause more injuries to humans than to groundhogs. People have also used broken glass or poured concrete into the entrance and exit holes of the burrows. But, these methods, says Simon, don't work.
There are several non-lethal humane ways to effectively discourage the animals. One of the best is to enclose the garden in a three foot high mesh fence, "with the top part left wobbly to discourage the animals from climbing," says Simon. To discourage groundhogs from burrowing under the garden and then coming up to munch, the Humane Society advises homeowners to purchase a four-foot tall roll of green garden fencing. The lower 12 inches of mesh should be bent at a 90 degree angle and run parallel to the ground, away from the garden, to create a "false bottom," and secured to the ground by landscaping staples. Homeowners can also discourage groundhogs by placing objects that reflect sunlight and continually move in the breeze, such as tethered Mylar party balloons. Simon says ones with big eyes "seem to work best because they create a predator image."
Groundhogs and people can co-exist, with neither harming the other. Killing groundhogs just because we can is never a good reason.
[For further information about humane methods to deal with groundhogs, contact the Humane Society at www.hsus.org or by phone at 203-393-1050. Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist. His latest book is the critically acclaimed mystery thriller, Before the First Snow .]
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