The Little People of the Trees

Face it, some wild creatures are nuisances. But, unlike my father, I don't number squirrels among them.

My father hated squirrels, and tried to keep them away from his bird feeder, out of his yard, and out of his house. He hot wired the bird feeder and sent electrical shocks into squirrels climbing the metal post to get the food, for example.

And when, they moved into the basement, he took his shotgun down cellar and shot the place up--but not a squirrel was wounded, or killed.

I happen to like squirrels. Especially the babies, circling and circling the trees in the forest behind my house. I worry when their nests disappear and have tried to learn as much as I can about the two litters mother squirrels have each year.

Someone once called them "the little people of the trees," and the name stuck, at least around our house, where they're welcome.

When they feasted on the birdseed, we gave them their own squirrel feeder. I'm sure they couldn't tell the difference between a bird feeder and a squirrel feeder, but it made us feel good.

Now, they're "protected." Meaning you can't trap my furry friends and haul them off to a far away forest to set up housekeeping. It's against the law.

In Massachusetts, if you trap an animal, you have to either release it where you caught it or kill it where you caught it.

This is what caused some of the problems in Longmeadow recently, when residents found out they're being over run by beaver. In Longmeadow, it's illegal to fire a gun inside the town limits. And, if they trap the beaver, the beaver can't be moved to be destroyed.

The beaver won, of course, and are happily living out their lives without interruption.

Massachusetts has a problem with beaver, by the way, because their population is rapidly increasing. Well, more than rapidly, frankly. And state conservationists and environmentalists are worried.

How can you control beaver--or, coyotes, or raccoons?

Well, try guards--dogs, llamas and donkeys are being used to protect livestock. The jury's still out on llamas and donkeys--they live longer than dogs, but also injure or kill more sheep than guard dogs.

Or, fence in the livestock. Build "beaver pipes" to control the water level and flooding. Hunting. Trapping. And, contraception.

Right, contraception. Hormone injections, implants. But, of course, a sterile beaver can still chew trees and flood fields.

Massachusetts wildlife experts have a management plan for beaver, by the way. The goals are to manage beaver resources as assets, not liabilities; to perpetuate populations for future generations; to keep the population at a level compatible with their habitat; to mininuize property damage; and, to allow people to enjoy public areas.

But they're seriously worried about the impact Question One--the ballot issue last year that changed the way animals can be trapped--will have on our wildlife population.

By the way, it is rabies awareness month. So, vaccinate your cats and dogs. Raccoon rabies are the strain we're worried about and are, again, on the increase. They affect not only raccoons, but also skunks, woodchucks, foxes, coyotes and other wild animals.

This winter, for the first time since 1949, a puppy with rabies was identified in Massachusetts. And, since 1992, when the raccoon strain epidemic began, 50 cats have been infected.

And, then there's bats--some 15 bats a year test positive for rabies, and these are the guys that are blamed for 80 per cent of human rabies. So if you get too friendly with a bat, submit the bat for testing, or seek treatment.

Now, back to the raccoons. The state is offering wild raccoons on Cape Cod oral vaccine. And, it's effective. Cape Cod has been rabies free since the project began in 1994.

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