They’ve become an unofficial city mascot. Chubby, furry little yellow-bellied marmots scurry about Spokane, fraternizing with children who throw them bread crumbs and peanuts, emboldened to frequent developed areas and traffic-heavy paths.
Cute as they may be, “that’s about all they’ve got going for them,” said Matt Houston, owner of Skunkworks Nuisance Animal Management.
Houston says he gets as many as 1,200 marmot complaints a year from Spokane-area residents who report problems including vehicle damage (they crawl inside and chew wiring) and landscape destruction.
“They’ve got a lack of natural predators, so we end up having to be the natural predator. We manage the population” through trapping and euthanization, he said.
Houston said he once removed 500 marmots over the course of two years from a rocky area by the river in Riverfront Park; 75 percent of them had hair-loss-causing mites.
“You don’t want to see 1,000 starving marmots; you want to see 100 flourishing, healthy marmots. See, that’s management,” Houston said.
Greenstone Homes, the developer of the Rocky Hill subdivision in Liberty Lake, hired Skunkworks to remove marmots that have sparked numerous resident complaints in recent months. The marmots live in a seven-acre outcropping that soon will be deeded to Liberty Lake to become a park.
The Liberty Lake Police Department has received 75 to 100 complaint this year of marmots chewing up transmission and radiator lines in residents’ cars, defecating on doormats, pulling up landscaping and getting into garages, said Wendy Van Orman, mayor of Liberty Lake.
Melissa Jensen, a Rocky Hill resident, said a marmot hitched a ride under the hood of her car from Spokane Valley and disembarked in her garage. After “a good few days of absolute chaos” – including marmot poop everywhere, clearing out the garage and moving their cars blocks away – the Jensens finally chased out the marmot. By that time, Jensen said she was ready to kill the “vicious little animal.”
Greenstone Homes is taking care of it.
Joe Frank, vice president of Greenstone Homes, contacted Houston a few weeks ago.
“My understanding initially was that they would be relocated,” Frank said of the 150 or so marmots living in the outcropping. “In the end, we realized they had to be euthanized.”
According to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations, marmots cannot be moved and thus must be euthanized, said spokeswoman Madonna Luers.
Residents are allowed to live-trap animals, but professional training and certification are required for euthanasia, according to regulation. However, Curtis Buyser, owner of Critter Control, who reports about two dozen marmot complaints a year, said clients can choose to relocate problem marmots. It costs more to find private property with an appropriate habitat, but with a permit from Fish and Wildlife, that option exists, he said.
So far, about 30 marmots have been trapped from Rocky Hill and euthanized, Houston confirmed.
Some residents support the marmots’ removal and subsequent deaths.
Casey Mason was the first person to move into the subdivision three years ago. A marmot bit his dog on the jowl, resulting in seven stitches. They’ve also eaten flowers out of his flowerpots, he said.
“It’s great. I’m fine with it,” Mason said of the extermination plan. “The population is high enough, and they’ve done enough damage. What they do with them doesn’t bother me when they’re attacking your animals and undermining your landscape and sidewalk work.”
Terry Eutsler, another Rocky Hill resident, said, “They were cute at first. This year, it’s just bad.”
Residents are afraid to park in the streets in case their vehicles’ wires are chewed, he said.
“I think it’s the young ones,” said his wife, Heidi Eutsler. “I call them the teenagers causing trouble.”
Other residents assumed the marmots would be relocated.
“I love the marmots,” said resident Anne Burke. “I know they cause trouble, but they were here first. They certainly did not deserve to be killed.”
Burke said residents should have been involved in discussions to ensure humane control.
Frank confirmed that Rocky Hill residents were not notified that the trapping was taking place.
“I knew it was becoming a problem and decided to move forward,” he said. The trapping began about two weeks ago. “In the end, I agree I could have communicated better, but I don’t regret that we started trapping.”
Marmots, like many rodents, can carry diseases to domestic animals and humans, Houston said.
But resident Leslie Palmer said the marmots are so skittish she isn’t too worried for her two children.
Palmer’s landscaping kept mysteriously disappearing until one day she saw a trail of dirt going across the street, over to the outcropping.
“They’re hilarious,” she said of the critters that have been stuck in her garage twice. “That’s sad (if they’re being killed). They’ve been here a heck of a lot longer than all of us. I mean, let’s get rid of the elk while we’re at it. And shoot down all of the hawks out of our air zone.”
Houston said most opponents of his business have not been affected by marmot damage.
“Everyone wants to save an animal until the animal causes damage that costs them money. Then their whole attitude changes.”
Van Orman said that personally, she would not choose to euthanize the rodents and suggested residents and marmots coexist.
“Residents get to see wildlife sometimes at its best and sometimes at its worst,” she said. “That is an incredible experience.”
Trapping in Rocky Hill has stopped – for now. Frank said it will resume if he doesn’t hear any more resident complaints. “It is an emotional issue and I understand that,” he said.
“If I had a choice of all the things I could do, it’s not the exact perfect scenario, but given the rules of the game, we feel it’s the course we had to take. We’re still of the opinion that the damage they have caused is only going to get worse.”