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Fox Squirrels

Gardening


If you are lucky enough to live on the outskirts of town, you may have become accustomed to the sight of cute, gray squirrels with long fluffy tails. Known as the western or California gray squirrel, they scurry up oak trunks and scamper across woodlands gathering acorns and other nuts and seeds. Of late, however, there is a squirrel interloper inhabiting those same trees. These guys are a tiny bit smaller and their tales a little less fluffy, but the defining character is their color, a brassy brown. Commonly called the fox squirrel, they are native to eastern and southern states.

So why are we seeing them this far from their native range? The story is well documented and just another example of humans catering to their own whims at the expense of Mother Nature. In 1904, the fox squirrel was brought to the grounds of the Sawtelle Veteran’s Home on Sepulveda and Wilshire boulevards in Los Angeles. The Civil War and Spanish American War veterans living there, homesick for the sights (and, possibly the game they were used to hunting) of home in the Mississippi Valley, released them there and their history is still being written.

In the space of just over 40 years from that modest beginning, they had moved eastward across the Santa Monica Mountains, the San Fernando Valley, and over the Santa Susana Pass into Simi Valley. There, they were not welcomed by any means. The walnut ranchers, and the Agricultural Commission, declared them a pest for the damage they did to their crops.

Unfortunately, they haven’t stopped expanding their range and we are only the latest community to have them take up residence. My personal experience is that they are indeed pests. I’ve had orchids, fuchsias, even fern asparagus, shortened to the nubs. While I hope the others will recover, a maidenhair fern didn’t survive the constant grazing. For now, I’m just moving the affected plants out of what seems to be their “run.” But, if I have to, I’ll resort to traps. Just because they have fluffy tails doesn’t mean they aren’t rodents.

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to vahayes@lotusland.org.

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