LIANE HANSEN, Host:
Gophers have officially been declared a pest in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. The rodents, Richardson ground squirrels to be exact, are destroying acres of valuable pasture and farmland. Dr. Gilbert Proulx has been studying ground squirrels for a number of years and is currently researching different methods of addressing the problems. He joins us from his office near Edmonton, Alberta. Good morning, Dr. Proulx.
GILBERT PROULX: Yes, good morning.
HANSEN: Describe what happens to these fields after these ground squirrels come in.
PROULX: Every decade since the beginning of Canada, there has been a few years of drought. We had a drought in the early 2000s, which kept the grass low. And when the grass is not growing well, the ground squirrels do very well because they like to be in the open.
HANSEN: Do you think they're worthy of being labeled pests?
PROULX: Well, the ground squirrel plays a real important role in its environment. They are the prey of many predators, and I could not think of a day when you get up in the prairies without listening to a ground squirrel.
HANSEN: I understand that the ground squirrels actually can warn each other about threats.
PROULX: Well, they talk a lot among themselves, and I think that when they see something that is scaring them, they whistle something that the others understand, and suddenly, we have a bunch of them all going underground.
HANSEN: Are there any solutions that can meet the interests of farmers who need to make a living and environmentalists who are concerned about protecting these animals?
PROULX: And if the farmers integrate controlled changes with chemical use, they will eventually control those populations without killing everything.
HANSEN: Dr. Gilbert Proulx is the director of science at Alpha Wildlife Research Management in Canada. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
PROULX: Thank you, it was a pleasure.
HANSEN: This is NPR News.
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