It’s odd to consider an animal a pest when it has an entire holiday named after it. Odder still if you associate groundhogs with the classic Bill Murray comedy Groundhogs Day. We all know the folklore and can recite it line by line. “In February the Groundhog comes out of his burrow. If he stays outside it means spring has begun, but if he sees his shadow he’ll run back into his burrow and we’ll have six more weeks of winter.” But what happens when this iconic little creature gets into your yard?
Funny as it may sound, groundhogs are large burrow-dwelling squirrels. They are the largest, by far, of the sciurid family in the United States. They are also known as woodchucks. They are notoriously skittish creatures, so unlike tree squirrels, they are unlikely to infest a house, and will attempt to avoid pets and people whenever possible. The threat to your home from groundhogs comes not from them being inside it, but from underneath it.
Groundhogs, as the name implies, build elaborate burrows. If one of those burrows is built under a home, it can cause significant damage to the foundation. Groundhogs can chew right through underground pipes and wiring. And groundhogs are not opposed to taking up residence in a house’s crawlspace. All of these things can very easily lead to costly home repairs.
Groundhogs can also be a significant threat to yards, especially if you have a garden. A groundhog is more than happy to eat all of the tasty vegetables you have growing for yourself. Groundhogs are good diggers, obviously, and decent climbers. Keeping groundhogs out of your garden requires a fence that goes at least a foot underground. There is also the problem that groundhog burrows are often taken over by other animals. An empty burrow can lead to snakes and foxes living in your yard.
There are a couple of important things to remember when removing a groundhog from your property. One is that groundhogs, although trainable, are notoriously aggressive in the wild when cornered. If you try and remove a groundhog from your property by hand, it can and will bite you. Groundhogs are a known vector of rabies, so their bites are not something to take lightly. The other is that groundhog burrows are designed to withstand things falling or being poured into them. A groundhog hole can be filled, but a burrow cannot be flooded easily, and dumping gasoline into them will do nothing but ruin your yard. Calling a professional is your safest bet.
Groundhogs are American icons. They are a part of our folklore. But they are also iconic American nuisances. You don’t need to let them stay in your yard.