June 24, 2009 in Region

Marmot causes restaurant ruckus in Prosser

Associated Press

PROSSER, Wash. — Talk about an uninvited dinner guest.

Diners at a restaurant in Prosser were startled Monday when a furry marmot wandered through the front door and settled into a corner.

That was no surprise to city Administrator Charlie Bush, who says the big rodents have long been a problem in the central Washington wine town.

“I know there’s a lot of marmots in Prosser, there’s no question,” Bush told the Tri-City Herald. “They’re happy marmots. They’re fat, they’re having a good time.”

Many species of marmots, including some known as woodchucks and groundhogs, are found across North America. They are closely related to ground squirrels and are among the largest of rodents, some reaching 30 pounds.

The burrowing critters have long been a nuisance in this Yakima Valley city, where they dig through gardens, add unwanted mounds to yards and even chew through electrical wires.

In 2006 and 2007, the city paid $5,700 over two years to hire trappers to thin the population. But last year, the City Council ran short of money and decided to get out of the marmot-control business.

Instead, city officials are recommending residents call the state Department of Fish and Wildlife if they’re having marmot problems.

Ted Clausing, regional wildlife program manager in Fish and Wildlife’s Yakima office, said marmot numbers tend to surge around June, after they’ve emerged from hibernation and nurtured the year’s litter.

“They are really prolific when they’re in an area that’s protected,” he said. “They’re really visible in the spring and summer.”

Three years ago, residents complained that the rodents were swarming a 75-unit development of manufactured homes near the Prosser airport, burrowing under homes and fouling front porches with their droppings. There were even unconfirmed accounts of marmots attacking people.

Town ordinances prohibit residents from shooting the critters.

Many marmots can be found along the city’s popular Wine Country Road. But the restaurant incident may be a sign the animals are expanding their turf.

Bush said several people in the restaurant helped build a makeshift tunnel out of advertising signs, and with some gentle prodding, the animal “just took off like a shot.”

So far this year, Bush has heard no formal complaints from residents about marmots.

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