Indulge me while I provide some background for this charming story of neighborliness.
We moved into our home over 5-1/2 years ago. One of the first things we noticed was the squirrel population. At any given time, you could count 15 to 20 squirrels in our back yard. It wasn’t long before we realized that our yard wasn’t the only place the squirrels were hanging out…they were making themselves mighty comfy in our attic as well.
Mr. Itsonlywords sealed the attic up, but it was the beginning of a feud between man and squirrel. The squirrels are Eastern Gray squirrels, a non-native, invasive species. They are out-competing our native squirrels. They raid their nests and kill the babies. Live trapped Eastern Grays are not to be released outside of their known range and, in addition, trapping and releasing, while it may seem like a humane option, often condemns the animals to a slow death.
After careful consideration, Mr. IOW purchased an air rifle. The air rifle looks like a “real” rifle, but shoots tiny lead pellets instead of bullets. Muzzle velocity is 1,200 feet per second, comparable to a .22 caliber rifle, but because the pellets are so light, the effective range is between 50 and 75 feet (based on personal observation). Since we live in a sub-division where each house sits on at least 2/3 acre, the air rifle seemed like a safe compromise.
Enter the neighbors. For the sake of their privacy, I’ll call them Mr. and Mrs. Granola. The Granolas live in the house immediately to the south of our property. Our first encounter with them was about 6 months after we’d moved into our home and well into Mr. Itsonlywords’ squirrel eradication project. It had apparently come to their attention that Mr. IOW was shooting the squirrels; they hand-delivered a book that outlined various ways to peacefully co-exist with various animals friends: raccoons, squirrels, deer, possums…rats! When I returned the book, I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. and Mrs. Granola and they told me that they were maintaining their yard as wildlife habitat (I thought they just didn’t like yard work!). When Mrs. Granola stepped outside, the reason for the large population came into focus. The squirrels swarmed around her ankles, obviously looking for handouts. And she did not disappoint! Out of her pocket came peanuts, pecans, walnuts; a veritable squirrel smorgasbord!
Once they realized that Mr. Itsonlywords wasn’t practicing peaceful co-existence, the Granolas tried a different approach; they hand-delivered a dead squirrel wrapped in a towel to our front porch. Mr. Itsonlywords is of Irish and Mexican descent and let me just say, he did not handle that well, although afterwards it did seem that the Granolas were resigned to the squirrel culling.
Until today. At around 10:00 a.m., we were treated to a visit from a Snohomish County Sheriff’s deputy, responding to a complaint that we were shooting squirrels.The deputy, a very nice young man, was not at all interested in the squirrels but he did ask to see the rifle that Mr. Itsonlywords was using to shoot them. They were apparently under the impression that we were using a .22 caliber rifle. Hmm, I wonder where they got that idea?
After the deputy left, Mr. Itsonlywords went over to talk to Mr. Granola who was outside having a smoke. (Off topic…if people must smoke, why do they have to smoke outside where it stinks up the whole neighborhood? Stink up your own house, I say!) I wasn’t close enough to overhear the conversation, but Mr. IOW told me afterward that Mr. Granola was unaware that the State of Washington considers the Eastern Grays to be an invasive species or that it’s legal to send them on to the gates of Dark Forest. Mr. Granola ended the conversation by asking, “Why can’t you just leave them alone?”
Good question, Mr. Granola. Why can’t you leave them alone?
The Granolas aren’t really interested in squirrels as wild animals any more than they’re interested in maintaining a “wildlife habitat” in their yard, which is 80% overgrown with Himalayan blackberries and English ivy, two other non-native invasive species which are classified as noxious weeds by the State of Washington. What they are interested in is treating wild animals as pets, as became painfully obvious while I watched Mrs. Granola feed the squirrels. They don’t really help the squirrels by doing this, as they’re merely helping to support an unnaturally large population. The squirrels are very bold around humans, which is for troublesome for humans as they can carry disease and troublesome for the squirrels, as it makes it ever so much easier to hurt them. (We’ve recently discovered that you can lure the squirrels closer by making the same “kissy” noises you might use to lure a dog. I wonder where they learned that?)
Beyond that, it’s very troubling to me that the Granolas would call the police to report a “crime” without having all the facts. They didn’t know the Eastern Grays are a non-native species. They didn’t know it wasn’t illegal to shoot them. The didn’t know that we weren’t using a .22 caliber rifle. Yet despite this lack of knowledge, they went ahead and made the call.
One other thing they didn’t know: while it’s not illegal to shoot the squirrels and it’s not illegal to fire the air rifle in our neighborhood, it is illegal to file a false report with the police. They get a pass on the first occurrence; I don’t think it’s likely they’ll be reporting us again.