The Washington Times - January 5, 2009, 12:10PM

Yes, it’s winter and the chance of running into a groundhog this time of year is slim, but I recently saw a printed item somewhere that caught my eye because it concerned woodchucks and how they can be the bane of gardeners everywhere. That was followed by advice on how to keep the furry critters away from the turnips, carrots and other goodies.

I know about woodchucks. They’ve ruined various parts of our family property and parcels of farmlands by digging numerous entry and exit holes and tunnels that can be treacherous to livestock when an animal’s hoof crashes through the thin earth, perhaps breaking the leg of an expensive cow or horse. Never mind what it’ll do to the normally peaceful demeanor of a farmer when a tractor or plow wheel gets stuck in a woodchuck tunnel.

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In the past some of us have watched and waited for the coarse-haired “whistle pigs” and fired small, powerful rifle loads at them in hopes of decimating the groundhog population. Given enough time and good aiming, the shooting usually gets the job done.

But don’t ask the animal-worshipping Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) what should be done about these burrowing pests.

In regards to groundhogs invading gardens, the HSUS says: “There is a peaceful resolution to the conflict — one where humans and woodchucks can co-exist.”

That’s the difference between people whose heads are in the clouds most of the time and regular folks who don’t shy away from reality.

The HSUS position on groundhogs kind of reminds me of rather lengthy advice many years ago that came from the animal rights organization known as the Fund For Animals.

It concerned mice living in our homes. The animal group said that you shouldn’t kill the mice with deadly effective wire snap-traps, but rather try to catch the mouse in one of those devices that keeps the little rodent alive inside a small chamber. Then you should take the mouse to the woods and open the trap so the little troublemaker  can escape and live happily ever after.

Hoo, boy!

That house mouse wouldn’t last longer than half an hour because a hawk, owl, fox, weasel or coyote would make mincemeat of it as it now finds itself in strange woodland surroundings and doesn’t know what to do. It only knows about attics, basements and kitchens, not trees, shrubs and raw earth.

So much for humane treatment.

The HSUS, meanwhile, says the best way to woodchuck-proof a garden is to put up a simple chicken wire or mesh fence. It recommended various ways of digging and placing the fence down into the ground and being sure to extend the wire mesh, bending it back to create a kind of false bottom. If the woodchuck digs and suddenly hits the buried wire, it will be discouraged and will give up.

Not.

It also recommended getting a piece of high enough Plexiglass to act as a slippery door to the garden that people could step over, but a groundhog could not climb because it would lose traction.

The animal rights group that is the richest in the U.S. says you shouldn’t even think of trapping the 4-legged digging machines. The HSUS says if you trap all the groundhogs in your garden, more from surrounding areas will invade your property.

What? Woodchucks have a bulletin board that lists freshly available gardens?

Friends and adversaries, there’s only one sure way to get rid of groundhogs that invade the properties you simply do not want dug up: Shoot ‘em.

The younger woodchucks, incidentally, taste a lot like rabbit. Not bad at all. I can say that with authority because I’ve eaten them after they were baked and basted to tender goodness, served with gravy, mashed potatoes, lima beans and corn bread.

- Gene Mueller