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July 7, 2009

How To Humanely Chuck a Woodchuck Out of Your Yard

The Humane Society of the United States

The Humane Society of the United States recommends the end of July or August as a good time to ask problem woodchucks to hit the road when they are not wanted. The HSUS' Humane Wildlife Services Department receives numerous calls from homeowners every year asking for information on woodchucks who have taken up residence under decks, porches or sheds. People become worried that burrowing activities will undermine their foundations, and are uncertain about the safety of their pets when these rodents — more common to agricultural settings — decide to try suburbia for a change.

"These are not dangerous animals," says John Griffin, director of Humane Wildlife Services. "In fact, they are the ones at risk of being injured or killed by the family dog, rather than the opposite. And as for damage to structures, you would have to have a lot of woodchucks working over a lot of years to create tunnel systems that would pose any risk to a structure." 

Still, it is understandable that some people might not want the animals under their porch, and there are some very effective and practical nonlethal techniques to dissuade them from even trying.

Best Timing

Woodchucks breed once a year and typically give birth between April and June. By mid-summer the young are old enough to live on their own, and usually move away considerable distances. The dens used for young are then typically abandoned. You can monitor the dens by finding the entrances (typically a main entrance and one or two "bolt" hole that may be well concealed) and filling them loosely with soil or grass clippings. If this is pushed aside within a two or three days, you know someone is home. If not, you can dig down a few inches and position a sturdy wire barrier (2 x 2 inch mesh fence works well), about 3 feet square in size, over the center of the hole. Secure this with landscaping staples and cover with earth. This should sufficiently deter any dig backs, since any passing woodchucks will try to reopen the burrow at the original entrance and be frustrated when they cannot get through the wire.

Stubborn Woodchucks

Occasionally you may have to apply a little pressure to get an evacuation. Sometimes, with a new burrow system and a nervous woodchuck, this is easily accomplished by partly digging out the main entrance (identifiable by a considerable amount of earth or "spill" in front of it), placing a foreign object (such as a tree branch or small board) in the entrance or placing used kitty litter (the clumping kind) into the entrance and loosely filling it with earth. A couple of times with that sort of treatment and most woodchucks will get the hint. Once you have monitored for occupancy and determined no activity for 3-4 days, the wire treatment can be applied. Keep in mind woodchuck burrows may be used by lots of different critters, so don't just try to fill them in without monitoring to ensure they are unoccupied.

Last Resort

There are hard cases out there where these approaches might not work. For example, an old and well-established burrow system with multiple tunnels and/or occupants, burrows that are unreachable under decks or porches and very stubborn woodchucks. "Sometimes we have to intervene with wire fencing and one-way door evictions, especially for porches and decks." Griffin notes. In these cases, professional services may be required. For the determined do-it-yourselfers, more information can be found on the HSUS website given below.

The HSUS Wild Neighbors Program promotes non-lethal means for resolving conflicts between people and wildlife and cultivates understanding and appreciation for wild animals commonly found in cities and towns. The program's book, Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife (December 2007, Humane Society Press) is a useful reference for individuals and communities faced with resolving encounters with wild animals who find their way into yards, gardens, houses, parks and playgrounds.

To learn more about living with backyard wildlife visit: humanesociety.org/wildneighbors.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org.

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