Cambrian: Opinion

Mountain Musings: Allies in the war on ground squirrels

The enemy of my enemy is my friend: Rattlesnakes eat ground squirrels.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend: Rattlesnakes eat ground squirrels. PHOTO BY PHOTO BY CARRIE YAPLE ADAMS

Does ground squirrel taste like chicken to a rattlesnake? Boy, I hope so.

Gophers and ground squirrels — for some reason, they’re out in force this year. There goes another hollyhock, inch-by-inch tugged underground. Sure, it’s one less thing to water, but it was just about to bloom. Oh well, it’s breakfast or bedding now — flea bitten varmints.

Ground squirrels scramble up fruit trees and grape vines to eat immature fruit and leaves. They break small branches. And, lately, I rarely get an egg from the nesting boxes — egg suckers, for real.

Here’s the challenge: I don’t like to kill things. I’m someone who says, “Sorry, dude,” when I step on a spider crawling across the floor.

The only thing I’m known to exterminate without apology — and with an expletive — is a tick trying to chew its way into my skin.

So, how do I minimize the rodent population or at least keep it from exploding any more than it all ready has?

First, I don’t feed the doe-eyed destroyers any kibble, bird seed, hen scratch, or layer pellets. The dogs, cats, lovebirds and chickens are fed measured amounts each day rather than large bowls or free-choice feeders full. No enticing buffet of grow-more super food here.

Second, a big black cat from the Homeless Animal Rescue Team shelter. He’s a big help.

Third, more wire, more secure aviary and hen house. It’s on the to-do list.

So far, that’s it. No poison, no traps, no bullets. Just counting on the bobcats, hawks, and snakes out there to hear the dinner bell ringing; come and get ’em.

Gopher snakes and king snakes — love them. Rattlesnakes? Not quite as much. There’s always that element of danger in Western Diamondback country, like up here in these Santa Lucia Mountains.

Over the years, two of my dogs have been bitten, one in the neck and the other in the foot. Both survived.

The German shepherd puppy was administered anti-venom several hours after the fact. The Border collie had no such injection, but was kept calm and had a charcoal poultice treatment.

Oak charcoal out of the woodstove was ground up, stuffed into tea bags, dampened, and placed over the fang marks on her neck, after the hair had been clipped away.

Whether or not the charcoal absorbed some of the venom, as intended, we don’t know for sure — but she made it and lived another 12 years.

If someone does get bit by a rattler, keep the bite below the level of the heart, keep the person as still and relaxed as possible, and transport the wounded to the nearest medical facility.

No panic, no tourniquet, no knife, no sucking and spitting out the venom.

Of course, prevention is best. Awareness and avoidance are good things. So is a pair of knee-high boots.

Snakes eat squirrels, not people. Good snake.

Michele Oksen (over lives in Cambria’s mountain community in the Santa Lucia range.