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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 2, 2009

Voles cause human conflict at community gardens

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — Conflict in the community garden over the humaneness of trapping and transporting voles has been resolved, after Supervisor Kenneth Runion discovered that trapping wildlife in New York State is illegal, unless it is done by a licensed wildlife service.

Margaret Rusch, a lifelong gardener, and a member of the community gardens for 13 years, became distressed when she saw the community gardens coordinator, Gerard Houser, shaking a Havahart trap that contained a vole.

In a letter to The Enterprise editor published this week, Rusch explained her various concerns with the way voles were being dealt with in the gardens. According to Rusch, when she saw Houser shaking the trap, she asked what he was doing, and he said that he was killing a vole. Houser told The Enterprise this week that he was being facetious when he made that comment, and he was actually trying to free the vole from where it was stuck in the trap.

Houser, who had been trapping and moving voles prior to learning it was illegal, said he rarely kills voles. When he was trapping, he would re-locate the voles at least a half a mile away from the gardens, he said.

“We have voles eating hundreds of pounds of produce, and we need to keep the numbers down,” said Houser. “They multiply fast.”

According to the Cornell Cooperative Extension, the vole, a three-to-four-inch long rodent, has large population fluctuations and can reach high densities. They are a herbivorous animal, and especially like the vegetative portions of plants. Voles have the ability to burrow underground, which makes it hard to keep them out of gardens.

The population of voles around the Guilderland community gardens has reached a high density this year, Houser said, and, the animals have been consuming an increasing amount of produce, especially root crops. Rusch said she believes she has had one of the biggest problems with the voles this year, because she has perennials, which are especially appealing to the rodents in winter, when there are no vegetables to be had.

However, the ways in which Houser and Rusch each chose to deal with the voles was causing some discord.

“I feel very passionately about this,” said Rusch. Even if Houser, and other gardeners, were not killing the voles caught in the traps, she thinks the traps themselves are inhumane. People can’t monitor them, she said, so animals may sit in the traps for over 24 hours. Occasionally animals other than voles, such as birds, get caught, Rusch said.

“I don’t even think trapping is reducing the number of voles in the gardens,” Rusch said. “In fact, the fruit placed in the traps might be attracting more voles than ever.”

Rusch had several suggestions about keeping the voles out of the vegetables, including fencing off small areas with hardware cloth. She also recommended avoiding planting the favorite foods of voles near the vegetables, or planting marigolds or other noxious plants nearby to discourage them.

Those kinds of tactics don’t seem to work, Houser said, and sometimes they are impractical. Fencing off small areas all around a 600 to 800 square foot plot is unreasonable, he said.

According to the Cornell Cooperative Extension, one way to discourage voles is avoid using mulches that have small particle sizes, and use large sized crushed-stone mulch, or pine bark mulch, to reduce tunneling. The extension also suggests hardware cloth barriers.

Trapping of wildlife by anyone other than a licensed wildlife service is illegal because it is dangerous to take an animal out of its natural environment, since there is no way to know if it is carrying diseases, or how it will act, said Joan Carmello, a master gardener for the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Trapping itself is not illegal in the state, and killing a vole is not against the law; it is only the relocation that is not allowed.

Houser said this week that all gardeners have been notified that they must cease setting traps, or using rodent poisons, in all parts of the community gardens. He said he did not have further comment on how he will go about managing the vole population in the future.

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