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Squirrel population boom could be affecting apple crop

By Christopher Chambers (Contributing Writer ) on November 30, 2012.
Email: news@oswegonian.com
Posted in News,Web Exclusive.

In certain areas around the country, farmers have noticed an increase in the number of squirrels and the amount of damage that they are doing to the apple crop.

It appears, however, that the Oswego area hasn’t experienced the same level of damage from squirrels that in other areas have experienced.

In Vermont and the Hudson Valley, there have been news reports of squirrels eating apples and adversely affecting apple production.  According to the United States Department of Agriculture, as of 2005, New York produces 11 percent of the United States’ apples.

Dr. Eric Hellquist, of the Oswego State Biology Department, had not heard of the issue and was skeptical that it was even happening.  Upon further investigation however, he was convinced by reading scientific reports coming out of Cornell University confirming the suspicion that something was happening with the squirrel population.

Hellquist said that the mild winter could be a cause of the boom.  Without temperatures to slow the growth of the plants that squirrels consume, they have been able to grow stronger than most years.  Thus supporting a larger population.

He said that he wasn’t surprised that there was a boom in the population.

“A healthy squirrel is more likely to reproduce than a starving squirrel,” Hellquist said.  “With more food available, there is a greater chance that a squirrel will become healthy and reproduce.”

On the other hand, the director of the Sterling Nature Center, Jim D’Angelo, said that he wasn’t convinced that there was even a population boom to speak of, due to the lack of research.

“In order to study population properly, you have to study it over many years,” D’Angelo said.

D’Angelo continued to explain that the increase in the number of squirrels on campus could just be a relocation of squirrels from other areas.

“It could even be due to the fact that there was construction going on in town and they had to find a new habitat,” D’Angelo said.

D’Angelo said that he had heard from local conservation activists that fishers are moving into the area.  He added that, when there is a large amount of prey to hunt, a predator, such as the fisher, is able to move into an area and thrive.  This allows the predator to control the population of the prey.

“This could explain why we haven’t seen much damage to apples and other fruits in the greater Oswego area,” D’Angelo said.