Saturday, July 21, 2012

Culling Of Gray Squirrels Is Wrong

This story from the Westmorland Gazette brings upsetting news that a cull of gray squirrels has begun in earnest in an area of northern England called the Yorkshire Dales. At the time that the article was published, on July 19, already thirty gray squirrels had been cruelly slaughtered, with many more to come.

The cull kill (let's call it what it really is) is being carried out by a group called Red Squirrels Northern England, whose stated intent is to "increase numbers of red squirrels in the region." They hope to encourage red squirrels currently living in an adjacent area to move into the area where the massacre is taking place.

The group's project manager, Nick Mason, cynically states the intent to use traps to snare and "humanely" kill the gray squirrels. By "humanely kill" he of course means placing a cloth bag over one end of the trap holding a terrified squirrel, opening the trap door so that the squirrel runs into the bag desperately trying to escape, and  then bludgeoning the squirrel to death.

As I have made clear just a few days ago, I think it would be great to see red squirrels make a comeback in areas of England where appropriate habitat exists or can be restored. Culling of gray squirrels is not a way to make this happen.

Besides being horribly cruel, culling simply will not, in the long run, restore numbers of red squirrels. As soon as the cull ends, gray squirrel populations will rebound at least to previous numbers, or possibly even greater due to the increase in food resources resulting from the absence of gray squirrels during the cull period.

The only way to restore red squirrel numbers is by providing and protecting their habitat. This means coniferous forests, which is the only optimum habitat for a strong, thriving red squirrel population. The cause of the red squirrel decline in the UK is not the gray squirrel. It is the destruction of pine forests and the planting by "conservationists" of broadleaf and mixed forests, which are far more favorable to gray squirrels. Those areas in the north of England and Scotland where red squirrels still thrive are not surprisingly coniferous forest lands.

Waging war against gray squirrels to help red squirrels is like a doctor putting a bandaid over the site of a cancerous tumor just to avoid doing the hard work of performing surgery to remove the tumor. In the case of the red squirrel in the UK, the tumor is habitat destruction. Killing grays is, for so-called "conservationists," an easy way to convince themselves that they are doing some good. It is much cheaper, more convenient, and therefore more politically viable than addressing the real problem of habitat destruction. It also has the advantage of identifying an "enemy" that can be seen, trapped, and bludgeoned to death, without compromising anyone's lifestyle or business interests as carrying out habitat restoration and protection might.

The problem is that the gray squirrel is not the real enemy. Grays were brought to England through no choice of their own. They have thrived in broadleaf and mixed forests, urban and suburban parks and yards, areas that are much better suited to their species than to red squirrels.

Grays have been blamed for carrying squirrel pox virus and infecting red squirrels with the disease, but the truth is that epidemics of this disease occurred among red squirrel populations before grays were present. Reds would be much more likely to develop immunity to squirrel pox virus in pine forests where they can be strong and healthy, just the type of habitat that has undergone the greatest amount of destruction.

I realize that as I am an American and not a resident of the UK, my opinion on this issue may not be taken seriously. But I think that cruelty and pointless killing of a species is an issue that affects us all, that overrides borders and nationalities. If I believed that culling of gray squirrels would have the slightest long-term benefit to red squirrels, then I might not be quite as upset when I see stories like the one that I linked above. But it won't have a benefit. The killing will go on for a while, there might be a temporary increase in red squirrels in the area, but sooner or later the money will run out, the killers will lose interest or political backing for their efforts, the grays will move back in, and everything will be just as it was before.

1 comment:

  1. Culling of grey squirrels is not wrong. It is absolutely essential for conservation of a native species.

    Red squirrels do not prefer conifers anymore than broadleaves, and they do not require conifers to survive. They have survived for thousands of years in broadleaves, and they will survive for thousands more at least, as long as grey squirrels are controlled. The belief that red squirrels need conifers is a massive lie supported by animal rights activists desperate for excuses.
    In areas without grey squirrels, red squirrels thrive in broadleaves as well as conifers. The Isle of Wight is a good example of this.

    Red squirrels thrive wherever grey squirrels are kept out. That is why red squirrels are found in Scotland and Northern England.

    Woodland area has more than doubled since 1900 and is still increasing, so the habitat loss argument simply does not hold water. Quite the opposite is happening.

    Despite what is suggested by the above blog post, culling works. As long as the culling continues, it is an effective means of population control. It does not involve trapping a few squirrels and then forgetting about it. Culling certainly does have long term benefits for red squirrels.

    Red squirrels did not have squirrel pox before the greys arrived. It did not appear until the arrival of the grey squirrel in 1876. Today, the spread of the virus coincides with the spread of grey squirrels. Grey squirrels are undoubtedly carriers of squirrel pox.

    Culling is not cruel either. This is yet another complete and utter lie. The animals are killed quickly and painlessly according to best practice guidelines. As someone who frequently traps and despatches grey squirrels, I am in a better position than most to talk about humane culling.

    It is vital that we have a logical approach to wildlife, not an emotive one.