Eastern Grey Squirrels are the latest invasive species to run amok on Vancouver Island.
Since a few of them broke out of a game farm in Metchosin in 1966, Eastern Grey Squirrels have multiplied in population and have been steadily travelling north.
Why do Eastern Grey Squirrels pose a problem?
- Their teeth keep growing and therefore they chew..on everything – trees, bark, fascia boards and even wires.
- Their powerful claws can rip apart flashing on roofs. “Squirrels do more damage in attics than mice and rats put together,” said one pest controller.
- They strip the bark from young trees to get at the sap beneath, girding and killing the trees. Stripping also makes trees vulnerable to disease
- They chew on acorns that fall from endangered Garry Oak trees, preventing their germination
- They eat native lily bulbs such as camas (Camassia spp.) in Garry Oak ecosystems and other flower bulbs
- They compete with native birds for nest cavities and bird feeders
- They eat birds eggs and nestlings
- They pose a threat to native red squirrels and the endangered Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) forests.
As the population density around Victoria has increased, more and more pest controllers have been called upon to trap the animals. In some cases the captured animals are re-released farther north on the island, thus exacerbating the situation.
The continued release of gray squirrels and the favourable habitat over large parts of Vancouver Island make a continued and rapid expansion of the gray squirrel population appear unavoidable.
The North American red squirrel have already had their habit diminished from urban development and the encroachment of another alien species, Scotch broom.
In 2009, groups in the U.K. got together and decided on ways to deal with the exploding population of Eastern Grey Squirrels which were introduced to Britain in the 1870s. One of the solutions has been to set up a program where local butchers prepare grey squirrels for consumers and restaurants. The taste has been compared to duck.
Why not do that here? Grey squirrels are listed as “Schedule C” animals under the Wildlife Act, which means they can be captured or killed anywhere in the province and at any time.
Sources: Impacts and Management of the Alien Eastern Grey Squirrel in Great Britain and Italy: Lessons for British Columbia