America loves Punxsutawney Phil. And, Pennsylvania loves Gus, the second most famous groundhog. BUT the Pennsylvania Game Commission considers the species to be a nusiance. Hunters shoot groundhogs in "open season." But, there's a better way than killing them.
by Walter Brasch
Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, Thursday.
That means there will be an additional six weeks of winter.
Or, it means there will be an early Spring.
It doesn't make much difference. Phil has an accuracy rate of about 39 percent, according to the StormFax Weather Almanac. That's probably about the same as TV weather forecasters.
StormFax has tracked Phil's predictions since 1897, the year he (with the help of the Punxsatawney Spirit) made his first trip to Gobbler's Knob, about two miles from the town in the northwest part of Pennsylvania.
The name, Punxsutawney, is probably derived from an Algonquin or Delaware Indian name which loosely translates as "village of sand fleas." The name, Phil, is a tribute to Philip Freas, a staff writer for the Spirit, who wrote dozens of stories about what would become one of the most enduring tourism attractions in the country.
The festival is based upon a German superstition and a Celtic celebration. The superstition relates to hibernating animals; when they leave their den, if they see their shadow, it's six more weeks of winter; if they don't, it's an early spring. The Celtic festival (known as Imbolc) was midway between the winter solstice (usually about Dec. 21--22), and the Spring Equinox (usually March 20). The date set for Phil's annual prediction is always Feb. 2, midway between the beginning of Winter and the beginning of Spring. This, of course, means that among the millions who now watch the ceremony in person, by webcam, or on the TV news, none are groundhogs. Except for Phil, they hibernate in well-constructed underground burrows from October to early Spring.
The name, woodchuck, an alternate for groundhog, is probably from "wojak," a Native American word.
The second most famous ground hog is Gus. Unlike the furry Phil, who lives with his wife, Phyllis, in a library for most of the year, Gus is a cute little animatronic animal whose primary mission is to lure Pennsylvanians to spend money on the state lottery. Television commercials have assured Gus of his own celebrity. However, unlike Phil, he doesn't make personal appearances.
Groundhogs in captivity have life spans that average 10--14 years. However, faced by several predators--including wolves, coyotes, foxes, owls, hawks, eagles and man--groundhogs usually live only two or three years in the wild.
Phil and Gus are just about the only two groundhogs that people feel any warmth for. The Pennsylvania Game Commission treats groundhogs as nuisance animals. Every day but Sunday is open season on the animals that weigh only about five to nine pounds. Even a cursory look at Google shows that several hundred thousand posts about groundhogs focus upon ways to kill them, with thousands of people bragging about how many they killed, and with what kind of trap, gas, or gun. There is no fur or meat value to humans.
Hunters and trappers kill groundhogs near roads and fields, and go from farm to farm. However, hunters and trappers often believe that in their own enjoyment of killing a gentle species that poses no threat to humans they may be doing some kind of a service to mankind. Many believe that killing groundhogs will keep them from overpopulating the environment. However, such is not the case. "Studies show that even when all the woodchucks are trapped out of an area, others from surrounding areas quickly move into the vacated niche," says Laura J. Simon, field director for the Urban Wildlife Program of the Humane Society of the United States. But there is also another problem. In Spring and Summer, baby groundhogs live in the underground tunnels. Killing their mother will lead them to starve to death.
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 .]
Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor of journalism emeritus. His current books are Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution , America's Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government's Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights, and 'Unacceptable': The Federal response to Hurricane Katrina, available at amazon.com, borders.com and most major on-line bookstores. BEFORE THE FIRST SNOW is also available at www.greeleyandstone.com (20 discount)
Walter Brasch, a deeply valued Senior Editor at OpEdNews passed from this world on February 9, 2017, age 71, his obituary follows:
Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D., age 71, of 2460 Second Street, Bloomsburg (Espy), died Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville surrounded by his family.
He was an award-winning former newspaper reporter and editor in California, Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio; professor emeritus of mass communications and journalism at Bloomsburg University; and an award-winning social issues journalist and book author.
Walter was born March 2, 1945, in San Diego, the son of Milton Brasch and Helen (Haskin) Brasch and was a 34 year resident of Espy.
In his early years he was a writer-producer for multimedia and film companies in California, and a copywriter and political analyst for advertising and public relations companies. For five years during the late 1990s, he was the media and social issues commentator for United Broadcasting Network. He was also the author of a syndicated newspaper column since 1992 and the creative vice-president of Scripts Destitute of Phoenix.
Dr. Brasch was a member of the Local Emergency Planning Committee and was active in the Columbia County Emergency Management Agency. He was vice-president of the Central Susquehanna chapter of the ACLU, vice-president and co-founder of the Northeast Pennsylvania Homeless Alliance, a member of the board of the Keystone Beacon Community for healthcare coordination, and was active in numerous social causes. He was co-founder with his wife Rosemary Brasch of The Oasis, a biweekly newsletter for families and friends of personnel stationed in the Persian Gulf. Later, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, they published The Oasis 2, for families of persons in combat zones. They were supported by the Bloomsburg Chapter, America Red Cross and Geisinger Medical Center, Danville.
He was the author of 20 books, most which fuse historical and contemporary social issues. Among his books are Black English and the Mass Media (1981); Forerunners of Revolution: Muckrakers and the American Social Conscience (1991); With Just Cause: The Unionization of the American Journalist (1991); Sex and the Single Beer Can: Probing the Media and American Culture (1997); Brer Rabbit, Uncle Remus, and the 'Cornfield Journalist': The Tale of Joel Chandler Harris (2000); The Joy of Sax: America During the Bill Clinton Era (2001); Unacceptable: The federal Response to Hurricane Katrina (2005); America's Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government's Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights (2006); Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (2007); and Before the First Snow (2011). He was co-author of The Press and the State (1986), awarded Outstanding Academic Book distinction by Choice magazine, published by the American Library Association.
His last book is Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit (2015), a critically-acclaimed novel that looks at what happens when government and energy companies form a symbiotic relationship, using "cheaper, cleaner" fuel and the lure of jobs in a depressed economy but at the expense of significant health and environmental impact.
During the past two decades, he won more than 150 regional and national media awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Society of Professional Journalists, National Federation of Press Women, USA Book News, Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group, Pennsylvania Press Club, Pennsylvania Women's Press Association, Pennsylvania Associated Press Broadcasters Association, Penn-writers, International Association of Business Communicators, Pacific Coast Press Club, and Press Club of Southern California. He was recognized in 2012 by the Pennsylvania Press Club with the Communicator of Achievement award for lifetime achievement in journalism and public service.
He was an Eagle Scout; co-recipient of the Civil Liberties Award of the American Civil Liberties Union, 1996; and was honored by San Diego State University as a Points of Excellence winner in 1997. In 2000, he received the Herb Caen Memorial Award of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. For the Pennsylvania Humanities Council he was twice named a Commonwealth speaker. He also received the meritorious achievement medal of the U.S. Coast Guard.
At Bloomsburg University, he earned the Creative Arts Award, the Creative Teaching Award, and was named an Outstanding Student Advisor. He received the first annual Dean's Salute to Excellence in 2002, a second award in 2007, and the Maroon and Gold Quill Award for nonfiction. He was the 2004 recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Service Award. For 22 years, he was Editor-In-Chief of the awarding-winning Spectrum Magazine, part of the journalism program of the Department of Mass Communications, Bloomsburg University until his retirement in 2010. The community magazine was published twice a year by students for residents of Columbia and Montour counties in northeastern Pennsylvania and one of the few to be inducted into the national Associated Collegiate Press hall of fame. The magazine was also a consistent award winner in competition sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists, Columbia Scholastic Press Association, and the American Scholastic Press Association. He primarily taught magazine editing and production, public affairs reporting, feature writing, newspaper editing; every Fall, he taught a 250-student section on mass communications and the popular arts.
Dr. Brasch was co founder of the qualitative studies division of the Association for Education in Journalism, president of the Keystone State professional chapter and for three years deputy regional director of the Society of Professional Journalists, from which he received the Director's Award and the National Freedom of Information Award. He was president of the Pennsylvania Press Club, vice-president of the Pennsylvania Women's Press Association, and founding coordinator of Pennsylvania Journalism Educators. He was a featured columnist for Liberal Opinion Week, senior correspondent for the American Reporter, senior editor for OpEdNews, and an editorial board member of Journalism History and the Journal of Media Law and Ethics.
He was a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Author's Guild, National Writers Union (UAW/AFL-CIO), The Newspaper Guild (CWA/AFL-CIO), and the Society of Environmental Journalists. He was a life member of the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, and was indicted into the national scholarship honor societies Phi Kappa Phi (general scholarship), Kappa Tau Alpha (journalism), Pi Gamma Mu (social sciences), and Kappa Tau Alpha (sociology.) He is listed in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the East, Contemporary Authors, Who's Who in the Media and Who's Who in Education. Dr. Brasch earned an A.B. in sociology from San Diego State College, an M.A. in journalism from Ball State University, and a Ph.D. in mass communication/journalism, with a cognate area in both American government/public policy and language and culture studies, from The Ohio State University.
He is survived by his wife of 34 years, the former Rosemary Renn the most wonderful thing that happened in his life and whom he loved very much; two sons, Jeffery Gerber, Phoenix AZ and Matthew Gerber and his wife, Laurel (Neyhard) of Bloomsburg, a sister, Corey Brasch of Sacramento, Calif; a niece, Terri Pearson-Fuchs, Calif, numerous cousins; and his beloved dogs Cabot and Remy.
Funeral services will be held on Wednesday, at 2:00 p.m. at the Dean W. Kriner Inc. Funeral Home & Cremation Service, 325 Market St., Bloomsburg with family friend, Nathaniel Mitchell officiating. Interment in Elan Memorial Park, Lime Ridge.
Friends may call at the funeral home on Tuesday from 6 - 8 p.m. or Wednesday from 1-2 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Walter M. Brasch Scholarship Fund,
c/o First Keystone Community Bank, 2301 Columbia Blvd, Bloomsburg, PA 17815 or to
Mostly Mutts, 284 Little Mountain Rd., Sunbury, PA 17801