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Marmot mischief solutions are not an easy fix

May 22, 2010
By Garry Brandenburg

Mr. and Mrs. Woodchuck know how to make a name for themselves.While they usually go about their spring, summer and early fall duties of eating leafy plants, it is the burrows of this marmot-like critter that if dug in the wrong place raise the nuisance level of the animal to a high degree. Then the question becomes, how do I get rid of the animal and prevent it from coming back?

As full grown adults, woodchucks can be up to 30 inches long, have a 6 inch bushy tail and weigh up to 14 pounds. They will have one litter of four or five young that are born from late April or into early May. They will be crawling about in one month and at two months will begin to disperse.

The burrow system of the woodchuck has a hole about 8 to 12 inches in diameter with a large mound of excavated soil at the main entrance. The tunnel system itself can be as long as 45 feet although 25 to 30 feet is average. No matter how long the tunnel, the excavated soil can easily add up to 1/3 of a ton! Several escape holes without excavated soil are always available to avoid predators such as red fox or coyotes.

Article Photos

A Woodchuck (Marmota monax) ventures onto the lawn area of an area homeowner as it looks for food. The name Woodchuck was derived from the Cree Indian name ‘wuchak’. A common alternate name is groundhog. They are members of the marmot family. An adult woodchuck has a grizzled brown coat color, a bushy tail, small ears and strong short legs. Its digging habits for burrows tend to get this animal in trouble with property owners if placed under patios or other outbuildings.

The grass lined main chamber of the burrow will be the hibernating spot from October through March. During hibernation, the woodchuck's body temperature will fall from 97 F to about 40 F and breathing slows to once every six minutes. Its heart rate also drops from about 100 per minute to just four. That is an amazing adaptation for a mammal.

Woodchuck burrows may also become the home for other animals. On the list are cottontail rabbits, opossums, raccoons, skunks or foxes. If the burrow system is located in rural areas, its comings and goings are out-of-sight and out-of-mind. However, if the burrow is in an urban area and next to your house, a new set of circumstances come to the forefront.

Prevention is always better and usually less expensive than the cure. In the case of what a full tilt removal process and repair entails, the cure could also be costly. Most folks will attempt to live-trap the groundhog and take it for a long drive into the country for release. Here is a tip regarding what can be a long wait for the critter to enter a live trap. Place a tarp or dark blanket over the live trap and against the burrow entrance. Leave the exit of the trap line tunnel open. The woodchuck, already used to crawling through dark tunnels, is more likely to go through the wire cage device if it is dark. A few small marshmallow tidbits for bait in the live trap should help.

Once the critter is removed, now the question remains of what to do with the excavated soil and the burrow entrance. One can try to refill as much of the burrow as possible. I can guarantee that complete refilling of up to 30 feet of unseen tunnel will not get refilled. Loose soil at the old entrance will not prevent a determined critter from excavating a new entrance. One long term permanent solution is to dig a 18 to 24 inch deep channel around the entire patio or concrete slab and bury heavy gauge one-half inch square wire cloth along the perimeter.

Other tips and professional nuisance animal removal services are available from Adam Utterback of Gladbrook. Call him at 641-485-2049. His services are not free. Just enquire about how much time is involved, typically, but understand that how much time it actually takes is not under Adam's control. The wild critter seems to always have a way of setting the time line.


A recheck of the BALD EAGLE live remote camera observations at the nest sites shows three very healthy young eagle chicks. They are beginning to get fully feathered but are a long way from adult size. Much later this summer will be fledgling time, that point in their life when they take off into the air for the first time. To check out the eagles, go to the web site


An interesting program for the Central Iowa Ornithologists is coming up on Thursday at 7p.m. Linda Zalatel, an avid birder for 40 years and a naturalist working with the Story County Conservation Board for 30 years, will tell of her trip to India in 2008. Monsoon rains, rainforest habitats and high altitudes all played a part in making birding in that country a challenge. The program is open to anyone interested in birds and other wildlife adventures. The place is the auditorium of the Fisher Community Center in Marshalltown.


While taking turkeys this last spring was accomplished legally by hunters who conducted their activities above board, a few did not. A Rock Island man faces up to five years in prison and over $10,000 in fines and civil penalties for weapons and turkey poaching. The Muscatine County arrest involved several law enforcement agencies. The poacher was already a convicted felon for past indiscretions. He added to it by having 12 citations issued for simple misdemeanor related charges for illegal taking of wild turkeys. The charges include no valid non-resident hunting license, no valid non-resident turkey license, failure to report the taking of turkey after the hunt, hunting without a valid habitat fee, taking turkey with a rifle, and transporting turkey without proper tags. The investigation continues by Iowa and Illinois DNR officers.


The summer issue of the Marshall County Conservation Board's free quarterly newsletter, Seasons, will be coming out next week. This is one way of getting advance notice of upcoming MCCB programs and events. If you aren't already on their mailing list and would like to be call 752-5490 to get your free copy or you can view the issue on line by going to the Marshall County website and clicking on departments/conservation and then "Seasons".


Here is an actual suggestion box entry left at a U.S. Forest Service facility to our National Parks: "More families would enjoy the parks and city children could learn more about nature if the Parks Department would provide services that include arcades, water slides and child care." Footnote: This author's response, if requested, to this inquiry is unprintable!


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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