Park Visitors Advised to Mothball for Marmots

United Press International

It's not really a question of how much wood a woodchuck can chuck.

The real question, at least in the eyes of officials in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, is how much damage a woodchuck or a group of woodchucks can do to cars and trucks, campers and motor homes.

Woodchucks, also known as marmots, are those cute, furry little scamps that scurry around the national parks, but they are becoming a real nuisance to visitors to the two adjoining parks.

During the last several years, visitors to the parks have returned to their parked cars to find the vehicles virtually dismantled by woodchucks.

"They eat through radiator hoses and all forms of electrical wiring in cars," said Larry Bancroft, resource officer at the parks. "In some cases the damage has been so bad that visitors had to leave their cars and find another way back home until a mechanic could make repairs."

Family's Experience Told

A park ranger recalled an incident in 1985 when a family camping in the park returned to their parked car after several days to find all radiator hoses chewed through and almost every wire bitten in half and partially eaten.

"The car had to be completely rewired and all the hoses had to be replaced before they could drive it," the ranger said. "It cost a pretty penny for all the repairs."

In an effort to protect the cars, motorists who visit the areas in the parks that are infested with the marmots are now being given a bag of mothballs to be placed in the engine compartment when they park their vehicles.

"There really isn't a problem for visitors who park their cars for only a few minutes," Bancroft said. "The heat in the engine compartment keeps the marmots away until the motor has a chance to cool down."

But he said visitors who plan to park their cars for longer periods of time may find the mothballs effective.

"There is some indication that mothballs may be a deterrent to these rodents," Bancroft said. "It's not the definitive answer, but it should help until we find a way to cure the problem."

Bancroft said the National Park Service has ruled out any thought of killing the pesky animals.

Must Be Protected

"Marmots are indigenous animals that we are charged to protect," he said.

Bancroft said the park service used the same reasoning to reject suggestions that the woodchucks be captured and moved to the desert.

"We are looking at a variety of strategies to keep the marmots from damaging cars," Bancroft said, "but eradication or relocation aren't included in the alternatives."

He said some of the animals will be captured and equipped with radio collars so that more can be learned about their habits, particularly their seasonal movements.

"We'll be doing a lot more studies and maybe we'll turn up something that will help us stop their attacks on motor vehicles."

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