We live on a wooded plot and we had to cut down a couple dozen trees and lots of brush to make room for our home. Becky and I felt like pioneers clearing the land as we spent much of one summer cutting and hauling brush and trees. The hardwood, maple, oak, elm, and ash, we made into firewood, the brush we either burned or hauled to the town’s brush pile, which becomes the school’s homecoming bonfire in October. Our goal was to cut down as few trees as possible and keep the native landscape. We planted native grasses and tried to become one with the natural environment to the point that the locals probably thought some real granola eaters were moving in. Despite our best efforts, we could not help disturbing many human and nonhuman activities while moving to our little piece of heaven.
One of the problems with overtaking land like this is that animals already lived there, not to mention the people who also long before us used the property as their own. One cannot help feel a little like colonial intruders hacking their way across North America leaving displaced people, animals and plants in their wake.
Our house is on a stream at the edge of a small town, and locals had been using our land like village common ground. Hikers and snowmobile and ATV riders had been cutting across the land for generations. Kids played on the property, built forts, and climbed trees. Almost every adult male in town had a story about killing suckers (carp) with a baseball bat during their spring spawning run up the creek. We did not feel too bad about causing the end to some of these activities, but watching a snapping turtle trying to dig a hole in our newly bricked patio to lay her eggs did make us feel like intruders (picture). Probably since the lake formed after the retreat of the ice during the Wisconsin Glaciation, generations of turtles had been laying their eggs on what is now our patio. The turtles eventually gave up and found a new place for their eggs but other animals were ready to fight back.
This spring as I started clearing the spot for what would become a workshop and office, I saw the telltale sign of a badger—a volleyball size hole in the ground, a large back-dirt pile, and a pungent smell. Wisconsin badgers are a bit like honey badgers of YouTube fame (look it up), they just don’t give a shit. They are not like the docile snapping turtles who resign themselves to a change in their pattern to accommodate their new neighbors. The north woods badger fears no one. They are the mixed martial arts fighters of the animal kingdom. Becky and I agreed we could not have a badger colony next to the house. We knew it was just a matter of time before our aged golden retriever would tangle with the badger.
I grew up in a rural area and this was not my first encounter with a badger. In previous cases, however, I was only an accomplice to the man known as the “Section 6 Assassin,” my father. My father, now deceased, was like everyone who grew up on a farm during his generation; in constant battle with predators trying to make a meal of livestock. Every farmer kept a loaded gun next to the door to be on the ready for a fox in the chicken coup or a coyote trying to take out a sheep in the pen.
Long after my father’s farming days, however, he was well known for his animal control skills and was frequently called upon by neighbors in section 6 to get rid of “nuisance animals.” I knew how he would take care of my current situation. I was suddenly sympathetic with the young boys who grew up in the mob and tried to break away from the family way of “taking care of problems.”
I went to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources web site and was able to find a link for “nuisance animals.” I called the number and found a very understanding DNR biologist, who said that they get many calls about badgers from our area, which has sandy soil preferred for making dens. She explained that the first step was to try to get the animal to vacate its den. Yes, I thought, the courteous thing to do is to encourage it to leave. Why do we need to create a kill zone perimeter around our property?
Her voice then became grim. Badgers usually do not leave, she informed me. “If it is a male, you might be successful, but if it is a female with a litter, they will probably not leave.” She instructed me to get a game camera to monitor the badgers activity and shove ammonia-soaked rags down the hole.
“What if that does not chase them away? I asked.
“Then I will issue a ‘Kill Permit.’ I would like you to try chasing them away for about a week. But because I am leaving tomorrow for a two-week vacation, I am going to issue the Kill Permit now as long as you make an effort to chase them out. It is, after all, the Wisconsin State animal.”
We had some ammonia. Why I do not know. I soaked several rags and was about to start Phase I.
“Take your gun,” my wife suggested and I was thinking the same thing. I have a 12-gauge shotgun and my wife does not like to think about it or have it in the house so her comment surprised me.
“Take your gun,” she said again, “but I still hate that you have it.”
Life in the woods can change one’s perspective. I am happy to report that the Kill Permit is still unused. The badger did vacate the den, at least for now. But as you know, we do have sandy soil.