The Potgut paradox: Are Uinta Ground Squirrels pests or eco-warriors?

Potguts make their presence known this time of year by the holes in yards, and their high-pitch calls, but their presence has more benefit to the ecosystem than most people think.

PARK CITY, Utah — As the snow melts and the first signs of spring emerge in Park City, residents will start seeing the formidable lawn intruding rodents —the Uinta Ground Squirrel, or known locally as “Potguts.” After spending the winter in hibernation, these small mammals are making their presence known, signaling their return with high-pitched alert calls and the appearance of tunnels and holes dotting the landscape.

According to Director of Conservation, Rhea Cone, of the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter, Uinta Ground Squirrels play a pivotal role in the local ecosystem. They serve as a crucial food source for a variety of predators, including hawks, foxes, coyotes, and Sandhill cranes. Moreover, the intricate tunnel systems created by these squirrels offer shelter for burrowing owls and snakes, while also aerating the soil and promoting the health of native plants.

However, the impact of Uinta Ground Squirrels extends beyond natural ecosystems into the realms of residential and agricultural areas. Homeowners, equestrians, landscapers, and gardeners may find the appetite and burrowing habits of these animals challenging. The emergence of tunnels can be frustrating, leading to concerns about damage to gardens and landscaping.

There are strategies to mitigate the impact of these critters. Physical barriers, such as fencing, can offer some protection for gardens and landscaped areas. Additionally, scented or noise repellents may deter these ground squirrels from encroaching on human-occupied spaces. For those considering more drastic measures, eradication may seem like a solution but, it’s important to explore alternatives to poison, which should only be used as a last resort, responsibly and legally.

According to Cone, removing these animals often results in a temporary solution due to their high recolonization rates and the presence of Uinta Ground Squirrels is only a seasonal occurrence. They will retreat underground again starting in late July, marking the end of their active period for the year.

While the little critters may be a nuisance, Cone reminds locals that they play a vital role in the natural balance of Park City’s environment, and to just let Potguts do their thing.

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