San Jose Mercury News

Chung: Those attacks are a wake-up call: Don’t feed ’em, don’t befriend ’em

September 28, 2006
L.A. Chung, Mercury News Columnist

I could have told you so. The kids at Eisenhower Elementary School said as much to the Santa Clara City Council last year when they lobbied to get a law passed:
Stop feeding those cute little fluffy squirrels in the park! Ignore that, and see what mayhem ensues.

Monday’s news that Mountain View had at least three squirrel attacks in a month at Cuesta Park is the wake-up call. We are reaping the seeds sown from years of squirrel-feeding. The attacks on young Andrew Packard and the others, even if they don’t have to endure painful rabies shots, have led me to a confession.
Personally, I hate squirrels.

I subscribe to Carrie Bradshaw’s world view: “You can’t make friends with a squirrel,” said the “Sex in the City” TV character, “Squirrels are just rats with cuter outfits.”

They savage my fruit trees, taking a bite here, a bite there, never finishing an avocado or persimmon in its entirety. We could all share, but they squander nature’s bounty. Give me Rocky, the cartoon squirrel, anytime.

The culprits are Eastern gray tree squirrels, and the city’s parks department was right to warn people about squirrels — just as authorities do when there have been coyote or cougar sightings, said Scott Delucchi of the Peninsula Humane Society.

Wildlife advisers from the Humane Society to the Little Blue Society will tell you that nature is as nature does, that squirrels are merely doing what comes naturally. And humans go and screw up animal behavior by feeding them.

We could take a page from the past, such as the Joy of Cooking book, circa 1975, a transitional period, from the days when some of us still shot our own small game out in the country, decades before we started ordering groceries online.
It has a section for rabbit, and possum and raccoon and even porcupine. There are illustrations for how to dress a squirrel. It’s easier if you hold the tail down with your boot.

I understand that we are all inter-related and interdependent in this world. That, as Mary Pagilieri, president of the Little Blue Society says, most conflicts between wildlife and humans are because humans are doing things they shouldn’t be, such as feeding them, or going into their territory. That we should avoid areas with squirrels now.

The Little Blue Society educates people on how their behavior contributes to human-animal conflicts, whether they are cougars or squirrels. It takes its name from the astronaut’s view of Earth from space, a little blue orb, fragile and alone, underscoring our interdependence.

These days, squirrels are burying nuts for the winter. Paglieri said squirrels could be attacking because humans are near their cache and they perceive their presence — even a 4-year-old boy’s — as a threat.

`For them it’s a life and death struggle out there,” she said. “They take their food very seriously.”

She wanted to make sure I understood squirrels’ role in the ecosystem. Sometimes, they don’t retrieve all the nuts, like the acorns. “The nuts they don’t retrieve will start sprouting in the spring, which will become trees,” she said.

You’re telling me they’re gardeners? I asked. In a way, she said.
She also begged: Don’t publish squirrel recipes. “I’ll be very upset. It’ll send the wrong message that squirrels are something that can be killed and not respected.”
Oh, I respect them — as game.

Joy of Cooking, Page 515, recommends stuffing and roasting squirrels with its recipe for pigeons, or for braising them, like chicken. Gray squirrels are preferred to reds, “which are quite gamy in flavor.”

Serve with polenta, the cookbook suggests.  Maybe that thought will make you stop feeding squirrels in the park.