October 21, 2021

Weary of the woodchucks

Cortland residents look to city for help in handling varmints

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Esther Davis shows a hole Friday created by a woodchuck under her garage in Cortland. City residents dealing with woodchucks damaging their properties have been looking for city or outside assistance, though the burden may be left to homeowners.

It was a little over a month ago when Angela Wilde walked out into her driveway in Cortland and saw a family of woodchucks hanging out near a neighbor’s trash can.

Shocked at the sight of Wilde, a larger one — which Wilde took to be the mother — ran one direction while the smaller babies ran in the opposite direction, she said.

The larger one ended up turning around and started making noises at the others, as if to get them to join.

This encounter was nothing new to Wilde as she has seen many woodchucks around her neighborhood and some under her porch.

But what Wilde and other city residents are worried about is the damage being caused by woodchucks and how to deal with them humanely.

“This is a topic everyone’s talking about,” she said.

The issue of woodchucks around the city has been a problem for a while but Wilde said she and her friends started having more conversations about the problem since the start of the pandemic.

However, no reports have recently been filed to the Cortland Police Department regarding woodchucks, said Lt. Cheyenne Cute.

In the spring, Wilde said she found a hole underneath her sunroom.

She covered it with a brick but later discovered the brick went missing.

She then started finding holes under her fence that were created by woodchucks, she said.

Initially, she was OK with one woodchuck living under her porch.

“Now, there seems to be so many,” she said. “I’m just worried about what kind of damage they’re doing.”

Woodchucks can damage gardens by eating plants and dig holes and burrows, according to the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

Esther Davis, who lives on Maple Avenue, has experienced this damage.

“Not only are they destroying the vegetables, but the holes they leave, our dog could step in,” she said. Her dog, she said, is 14-years-old and has poor hearing and vision.

Davis said woodchucks have dug holes under her garage, under a fence leading to her backyard, under a fence to her enclosed garden and under her neighbor’s garage with a hole leading to her backyard.

The question Wilde and Davis are left with is how to deal with the animals.

The city does not have a fund set aside for dealing with wild animals like woodchucks, Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin said.

“The expectation is that homeowners will be responsible for their own property, and call the appropriate businesses to deal with issues on their property,” he said in a text message.

Other animal agencies, like the Cortland Community Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, don’t do work involving wildlife, said Emily Bach, the shelter operations manager.

The Cortland Department of Public Works will only deal with wildlife if it’s dead, such as roadkill, said Superintendent Nic Dovi.

That leaves people like Davis concerned that cost may be a factor preventing some people from getting rid of the animals that are damaging their properties.

As for taking action, Davis said about two years ago she spoke with a representative from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and was informed that she couldn’t shoot the animals — firing a weapon within the city is illegal — and could only trap them if she had a trapper’s license, which she does not have. That meant having to call an animal removal service.

She also spoke about the issue earlier this year to Councilperson Kathryn Silliman (D-2nd Ward) who told her that the city didn’t have any programs to deal with them.

She has since filled in the holes created by the woodchucks, including using chicken wire under her garage.

But the size of the issue across the city, she said, means that larger scale action may need to be taken.

“The city should take on the problem,” she said. “It’s more than a problem” in just one place.