ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
Farmers in Spain have been suffering through a seemingly biblical plague this summer. Millions of the mouse-like rodents called voles are laying waste to vast areas of farmland. The farmers have been trying everything from burning fields to going after the rodents with giant rollers, but with little success.
Jerome Socolovsky reports from a town in Central Spain.
JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: Bustillo del Oro is a hardscrabble town, population 125, on the windswept plains of Castile. Time looks like it stood still on these unpaved streets and low stone hovels.
(Soundbite of church bells tolling)
SOCOLOVSKY: On the village square, a half dozen suntanned men get into their cars and head out to face the enemy. Millions of voles have infested the surrounding wheat and barley fields, and the regional government of Castile and Leon has sent in an extermination squad.
The men drive out of the village through clouds of amber smoke rising from hills that are being burned in an effort to eradicate the pests.
(Soundbite of burning crop)
SOCOLOVSKY: Eduardo Cabanias(ph), a senior official in the regional government, stands inches from the flames. He kicks aside some stubble and shows how the ground is riddled with burrows.
Mr. EDUARDO CABANIAS (Senior Official, Castile and Leon Regional Government): (Spanish Spoken).
SOCOLOVSKY: The voles take their food underground so they can survive the winter, that's why we're destroying all the vegetation, he says, so when they come out there will be nothing left to eat.
The voles have already infested a 1,000-square-mile area, eating their way through entire fields of beets, potato and grain. The regional government of Castile and Leon says an unseasonably mild winter followed by a rainy spring allow the rodents to multiply here like never before. But farmers have their own explanation.
Jesus Alfajeme(ph) is the mayor of Bustillo del Oro and a farmer himself.
Mr. JESUS ALFAJEME (Mayor, Bustillo del Oro): (Spanish Spoken)
SOCOLOVSKY: We've had this plague of voles and I think the regional government released them to feed the birds of prey, he says.
The farmers think the voles were released to help save the black vulture, the kite, and other rare predatory birds. But the regional government and environmentalists say it's not true. Poison is now being distributed in areas where the vermin are just starting to appear.
Environmentalists fear birds of prey will eat the poisoned rodents. They say gulls, pigeons and ducks have already died after eating the poison itself, even though the farmers are supposed to place it in plastic tubes that only the voles can enter.
(Soundbite of truck engine rumbling)
SOCOLOVSKY: A truck ladened with sacks of poison rumbles into Valdefinjas, a hamlet in the wine country known as Ribera del Duero. Grower Eugenio Garcia(ph), says a few voles have started to munch on his 50-acre vineyard.
Mr. EUGENIO GARCIA (Grape Grower): (Spanish Spoken)
SOCOLOVSKY: They eat the vines and anything that's green. It's good that they're giving this to us now while theye're still just a few of them, he says.
For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Valdefinjas, Spain.
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