Mountain View residents and city officials are all in a dither about how to deal with aggressive fox squirrels.
Since the middle of last year, some visitors at the city’s Cuesta Park have supposedly been “attacked” and scratched or bitten by squirrels trying to get food. I’ve put “attacked” in quotes because “attacked” is a matter of interpretation when it comes to small rodents trying to get food that you may be holding.
When people go to a city park and start feeding squirrels, it doesn’t take long for the squirrels to start thinking that when they see anyone holding food, it must be for them. If anyone, especially small children, tries to keep food from the squirrels (cookies, candy, etc.), the squirrels may try to take it.
People can get scratched or occasionally nipped if this happens. They’re not necessarily being attacked. They just got in the way.
Initially, according to the newspaper stories, radio program transcripts and blogs I’ve read, the city planned to trap and kill the aggressive squirrels. But when the smoke had cleared, hundreds of Mountain View residents had signed petitions demanding that the city forget that plan.
As of Monday, as near as I can find out, the city still hadn’t made any official plans to kill the squirrels and was looking for a long-term and less violent way to deal with them. Meanwhile they’re asking people to stop feeding the squirrels.
Good solution: Stop feeding squirrels. Keep the garbage cans emptied. Be patient. Things gradually return to normal as squirrels revert to natural food.
Bad solution: Killing the squirrels. First of all, it’s not fair. They’ve just been doing what humans have taught them to do (take food from hands). Second, if you kill off those few resident squirrels who have been keeping other squirrels from moving in on their turf, the park is going to gradually be filled when lots more transient squirrels move in to take their place.
Will they be more aggressive than the present squirrel population? Maybe. Maybe not. Is it really worth having to find all that out by starting all over with a brand new squirrel population? Fox squirrels live in the Bay Area and they’re not going to go away.
Killing is a short-term solution and usually not a good one.
The city of Mountain View needs to come up with a long-term solution to this problem that works for everyone — squirrel lovers who don’t want the squirrels killed, people who don’t like being scratched or bitten, and of course, the squirrels.
(The above information is also being published in my daily newspaper column on Jan. 24.)