Rob's Blog Archive

August 28, 2011

Reduction of Habitat










“This garage ain’t big enough for the two of us.  Well three given that there are two of you. Vamoose!” 

Pack rats.   Okay, correctly it’s packrats, neotoma cinerea. 

The Lamar Valley in Yellowstone is perfect for wolves.  Until recently, Rob’s Garage in Seeley Lake was perfect for packrats.  It was cluttered by piles of wood and stacks of appliance boxes, so there were lots of good places to hide nests.  And the rolls of insulation left behind by the previous owner made for great nesting material.  And the only predators that could enter the garage had opposing thumbs.  By the middle of last winter, Egbert and Mabel had become so bold that they didn’t even bother hiding when I came in at night.    

With the marks of various sorts from their infestation starting to pile up, I decided it was time to assert my territoriality.  I waited for snow to clear, and then with the first real opportunity to clean out the garage, went to work.  I was happy after a first round during which I destroyed two good sized nests.  I figured that was it.  Removing  the stacks of insulation they had been helping themselves to to line their nests along with the nests themselves had me walking away with a bit of confidence.  It was the arrogance of a tyro.

Having now cleaned out every square foot of the garage, I know that that first round of packrat habitat reduction didn’t even get close to finishing the job.  And I know where my second set of sled lines went.  And my box cutter.  And probably a dozen socket wrench sockets.  A few hand warmers (unopened, I guess they were waiting for winter), three harnesses, half a dozen small snaps, a pivot, a couple of large snaps---I’m wondering if they were planning on showing up at Montana Mountain Musher’s annual gear exchange and trying to pawn off my things.

Having cleaned out even the nooks in the rafters, I am certain I have gotten all their nests, middens, food caches, shit piles, and other sundry lairs and booty.  The garage is now cleaner than when I moved in.  I’m really hoping that this reduction of habitat will convince the resident rodentia to get out of Dodge.  And there’s a chance.  At least one of the two, Egbert I’m guessing, has spent more than a few minutes in a corner contemplating what just happened to his home.  I’m guessing that for him, this is more traumatic than going into foreclosure. 

I also have tried using behavioral psychology.   Egbert and I did battle, negative reinforcement.  I poked him with a stick a bunch of times to try and make it clear that staying here would be painful.   Unfortunately, this is probably another incident where I might have done well to read up on the species.  Evidently, males will fight viciously to defend territory, often being severely injured.  My noninjurious stick poking probably did no more than confuse Egbert and he may now even believe that he’s actually the tougher of the two of us. 

Along with my attempt at negative reinforcement, I’m providing positive reinforcement for what I’d like them to do.  I’m trying to convince them that an old wood pile left behind by previous owners is their new fantasy home.  Anytime I find horsehair lichen piled in the garage in a nest’s foundation, I move it to the aboriginal wood pile.  This might be a little closer to the garage than I’d like, but as long as they stop claiming my garage and/or its contents as theirs, we’re good. 

All of this had better work.  I feel like the Federal Reserve Board with only one more trick up my sleeve before I resort to some sort of trapping and removal, Plan B.  I can collect urine from my dogs and drop it on strategic spots.  If the urine of canis lupus and destruction of their homes isn’t sufficiently discouraging, then I will go onto Plan B.

This ain’t San Jose no more.  This is the wild west.  We have packrats here.  Yipee-Tai-Yea!

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