Posted by: Kirsten | Saturday, 12 January 2008

The Groundhogs of Antietam: Guests or Pests?

Groundhog (PGC Foto - Jacob Dingel)How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

With Groundhog Day soon approaching, I thought it would be interesting to see which National Park Service areas actually celebrated the presence of groundhogs within their borders.  The answer I got was pretty depressing.  Only at Antietam National Battlefield here in Maryland could I find mention of our early-February prognosticators, and they weren’t exactly mentioned in a fond way.

Groundhogs (or woodchucks) are considered to be pests by most people who own land and especially by those who farm.  Planting crops and expecting the groundhogs to stay away is like tossing birdseed on the sidewalk and expecting the birds to ignore it.  But in our National Parks, defenders of wildlife and all things natural, the last thing you’d expect to hear about is a “groundhog problem” at a National Park.  But sure enough, Antietam has such a “problem” that they seem to spend considerable time dealing with.  In fact, standing at the observation room atop the Visitor Center, groundhog mounds are clearly visible across the field of view.

While my internet search turned up a web page on the NPS Antietam site relating to their perennial battle with these large rodents, the link was broken so I was unable to find out much detail about the measures they’ve employed to deal with the critters. I did see a reference to a lack of “farm dogs” on the battlefield which someone thought was an effective nemesis of the groundhog but lacking at Antietam.

So here’s the $64,000 question — are groundhogs at places like Antietam really pests, or are we visitors to THEIR homes?  Or has the creation of the park and preservation of the battlefield artificially created this population boom?  And if that’s true, is the National Park Service obligated to actually do something about it?  Or does it depend? 

If the groundhogs are destructive to the point where they’re undermining paved trails (a hypothetical situation – I’ve seen no evidence that they are in fact doing this), then perhaps a relocation program is warranted.  But they’ll probably be back! Or should we just have to deal with whatever damage they might cause and turn the other cheek?  Another question that comes to mind — were groundhog holes an obstacle to the thousands of soldiers who stomped these grounds in September 1862?  Surely with the sheer number of soldiers who descended upon these farms, fields, and forests, there must be some historical account of the “woodchuck factor.”

If you and your kids have an opinion on this, why not write to the park management and let them know what you think or simply ask questions about what their stance is?  This would be a great exercise for your kids to take on as a writing assignment and tie-in to the upcoming Groundhog Day event.  Sure, you could easily send along an e-mail with minimal effort, but how about a letter that’s actually printed out, folded into an envelope, stamped, and addressed to the park superintendent?  When’s the last time your kids have done something like that?  Or how about we parents, for that matter?

Antietam National Battlefield
Office of the Superintendent
P.O. Box 158
Sharpsburg, MD 21782

Parke Diem!
— Jon



  1. I love groundhogs

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