Shadow of Itself

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Published on: Feb. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 8, 2010

County. "They dig holes in the barn, and they dug under the floor of my shed."

To remove problem woodchucks, Heatherly advises against using lethal traps, which can injure people and pets. Instead, he recommends using a cage trap. He used such a trap to remove groundhogs that were living beneath the deck of his house, baiting it with broccoli and cauliflower.

"There's a lot of food around for them, so you have to entice them with something extra special," he said.

The Conservation Department tells people that the only practical way to dispose of a trapped groundhog is to destroy it. Groundhogs are considered game animals. If you trap and destroy one out of season, you must contact your conservation agent within 24 hours.

The Department definitely discourages people from attempting to relocate groundhogs. Regulations do not allow you to transport wildlife species without permission and, as is the case with most animals, groundhogs are extremely stressed when captured and relocated to new surroundings. If the transported animals manage to survive, they likely will cause problems for someone else, or they might damage public land.

According to a 1955 study, groundhogs spend 80 to 90 percent of their time sleeping or resting, with only an hour or two a day above ground. Maybe that's why I had lived on my property several years before I saw a groundhog, despite plenty of evidence suggesting their presence.

One fall day, however, I spotted one waddling from a field to a wooded hillside. Actually, it saw me first and was running, but even when a groundhog runs, it waddles. The hillside was rocky and wooded, just the sort of edge habitat a groundhog favors.

I later investigated and found the burrow entrance, which was marked by a characteristic pile of soil and rocks. If I could have looked at a cutaway of the burrow, I would have probably seen several long tunnels. The groundhog excavates these with its long claws. When it accumulates a pile of debris, it uses its head to push the debris out of the main tunnel.

I almost stumbled into another hole that was well camouflaged by fallen leaves. Perhaps it was part of the same burrow. The lack of a telltale pile of soil in front of the hole suggested it was a secondary entrance. It dropped straight down about a foot before turning. Groundhog tunnels usually don't go deeper than four feet, but they

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