Viewpoint: Redefining varmint – not the politician
No, I'm not talking about our politicians!
Every spring across our great state and throughout the west, young and old alike take to fields and pastures to shoot the second most important group of animals to North American wildlife. Prairie Dogs and other Ground Squirrels (“gophers”) create homes and provide food for a wide range of animals including birds, reptiles, and mammals.
But more importantly, they raise the water table more than any other animal other than the beaver (which is THE most important animal to North American wildlife). Higher water tables mean greener pastures for cattlemen and more springs for deer, elk, moose and all wildlife. These amazing little animals also mitigate flooding impacts! Flowing surface water goes down their burrows to recharge the water table rather than simply running down to the river and out of the Valley.
Varmint Hunters should take aim at non-native invasive animals that threaten our native animals and ecosystems. These true varmints include the Eastern Fox Squirrel (common red town squirrel) that eat the eggs and babies of native birds. There is hardly a bird nest that they cannot get into. Turkeys, California Quail, Chinese Pheasants, Eurasian Collared Dove and the ubiquitous European Starling all compete with native wildlife. Non-native Brown and Rainbow trout can also be deemed varmints as they compete with and hybridize with our declining native fish populations.
Ironically, these new additions to our ecosystems do not increase biodiversity. Instead they degrade and simplify the ecosystems leading to further declines and extinctions.
Native animals have many roles to play in their native ecosystems. Non-native animals disrupt these roles and contribute to ecosystem collapse. Those creatures who enrich our environments and support native ecosystems and conserve our precious water should be highly valued by sportsman and wildlife advocates. Farmers and ranchers benefit from healthier animals and a higher carrying capacity per acre.
Beavers and Ground Squirrels (“gophers”) are only two of many important native animals that provide ecosystem services that benefit us as well as the remaining fragments of the natural world.
It is predicted that climate change will lower water tables. Those animals that recharge water tables could become crucial to us.
Animals that degrade our environment are varmints. By all means, go varmint hunting but be sure to direct your shots at non-native invasive animals!
Andy Roubik, Corvallis