Yyou have seen them They are large furry creatures the size of a bear cub that roll on the surface of the earth as they run from point “A” to point “B”. If you get too close to them, while investigating what that blur of fur was that snuck up behind the sagebrush, you’ll hear a deep growl, and if you’re quick, you’ll also see a lot of flying dirt and stuff. group of skins disappear underground.
You’ve probably already guessed it, if you’ve had an encounter with the American badger. They are very common in the High Desert, where, unfortunately, most so-called “jocks” and too many horsemen shoot them on the spot.
There is no wild animal in the state of Oregon that eats ground squirrels faster and more frequently than badgers. Wildlife biologists say they have a huge impact on Sisters Country’s biodiversity, which is an understatement. The agricultural industry in this part of the forest, with its irrigated farms, has had a profound impact on increasing populations of various ground squirrels, particularly Belding, which has created a new business: shooting ground squirrels, or “sage rats”. as some people know them.
At the Hampton station, you can see an old bus that was converted into a shooting platform that takes patrons to the edge of the hayfields to shoot (like kill) ground squirrels. This is causing a terrible calamity to the various birds of prey that also kill (and eat) ground squirrels.
Ground squirrels that have been killed with lead shot become carriers of lead that enters the lifestream of eagles, hawks, and owls in the region. Lead from dead ground squirrels is ingested by raptors, with horrible results.
There is no worse sight in nature than a bald eagle suffering the results of lead ingestion. Death eventually overtakes them as they crawl on their bellies, unable to eat, drink, or fly. In most cases, if the birds make it to a veterinarian’s lab, it will take up to a year of medication to remove the lead from their bodies.
To make matters worse, if the lead-infested ground squirrel-eating raptor is nesting, the adult will bring the contaminated ground squirrel and feed it to the chick. The result: the baby bird dies before it can fletch.
Then there is the badger which also preys on large numbers of ground squirrels. They are nocturnal most of the time, bringing ground squirrels out of their burrows at night and throughout the winter. Yeah, it’s that hellish digging that gets the poor badger in trouble with the horsemen. Time and time again, one hears reports of horses that fell into a badger hole, broke a leg, and had to be euthanized.
There’s no easy answer to that problem, except for horse lovers to chase the badgers far enough off the pasture that they don’t come back. But ground squirrels and horse pastures go together like hand and glove. Using lethal means to rid the grass of the ground squirrels causes more trouble than shooting the badger, so that’s out.
Trapping ground squirrels is labor intensive, but by far the best solution, especially if one hires a high school student to do it; he or she can create a wonderful college fund.
And then there’s hand-shooting (like killing) badgers for the heck of it. Unfortunately, the badger is not protected by any state or federal regulations. Early settlers who didn’t like badgers, or their appearance, could just kill them and that was that; it’s the same today, except you must have a hunting license and permission to be on the land.
That has to change due to the badger’s vital role as a member of the juniper, sage and grassland ecosystems. And on top of that, they are living members of our wildlife community.
Viewing badgers as prized members of the total Oregon wildlife community should be the attitude we all share whenever we see one crossing the street, or digging in a meadow removing pestiferous ground squirrels. We need them, and they need us!