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Squirrel-less in Marcola? Yes, it's true.

Byline: Bob Welch The Register-Guard

MARCOLA - I'm here, cruising the back streets of this country burg like some low-life rodent detective, because I had to not see for myself.

Not see the squirrels that readers tell me aren't there.

And they're right: They aren't.

On Wednesday morning, an Eastern fox squirrel skittered away from my front porch as I left for work. Later, one played Spiderman on the trunk of our backyard apple tree. And I live in suburbia.

But that same afternoon, in the nooks and crannies of this rural town eight miles north of Springfield, a place that looks and feels far more "squirrelly" than my neighborhood, nothing. Nutta.

I cruised at slow speeds for a solid hour. Twenty miles. Wendling Road. Farkas Lane. Carson Street. Everywhere. Nope.

I saw eight dogs, three horses, two white geese and a cat, but no sciurus nigers. This, on a day when squirrels, which don't hibernate, would have shown up well against the contrast of snow. But no squirrels. No tracks. No squished ex-squirrels on the road. No outfield chatter from tree limbs.

Thus has the mystery deepened. It began Jan. 17 when a new Marcola resident wondered, in our Q&A column, why, after seeing squirrels in other Lane County places she'd lived, she'd never seen a single squirrel here.

Frankly, I wondered if "Squirrel-less in Marcola" wasn't just a tad nutty. Not seeing squirrels in Lane County is like not seeing face lifts in Hollywood.

Goodness, I once saw one crossing busy Gateway Street as if headed to the Castle adult store, conjuring up a flashing marquee: Squirrels! Squirrels! Squirrels!

But Marcola residents, with few exceptions, agreed. "Too many stray cats," says Helen Anderson, a Marcola resident for 53 years. "They're getting the squirrels."

Toni Johnson, an eight-year resident, smells something fishier, or "squirrelier." On the grill. "We've been making jokes that there's lots of nuts out here but none grow on trees. Maybe, at the restaurant, instead of chicken wings, Granny Clampett is serving up squirrel."

Actually, Johnson suspects dogs and cats. But urban places have dogs and cats - and still have squirrels. "There's a higher pet-per-person ratio out here," she says.

Some suspect other animals. "Mountain lions," says Carol Koton, who has a cousin on McGowan Creek Road. "Squirrels in that area might have gone the way of my cousin's cats."

But Lynn Bowers, a Eugene environmental activist, suspects something else: herbicides used by logging companies to keep down foliage in clear-cut areas that they've replanted.

Bowers, president of the watchdog group Forestland Dwellers, has maps showing areas around Marcola that state records indicate have been sprayed. "A hunter called me and said these are `dead zones.' There's nothing for animals to eat. Herbicides could be influencing the squirrel population."

Dan Gleason, a former University of Oregon biology professor and author of the "Backyard Habitats" column in The Register-Guard's monthly Home & Garden magazine, says the common Eastern fox might never have been introduced in Marcola.

"This reddish-brown squirrel is common in cities and some towns, but in Oregon, it has not spread into forest regions."

Former Lane County Commissioner Jerry Rust wonders along the same lines. "The red one we see in Eugene is imported from the Eastern U.S. It thrives in the big-old city street and backyard trees. Historically, were these squirrels introduced in Marcola?"

If not, is it time? A woman on Eugene's Maxwell Road has offered Marcolans her many squirrels. Shall we begin a hands-across-the-Mohawk-River campaign to revive Marcola's rodent population?

Maybe so. Because as I drive through here, there is something eerie about Marcola, as if the snow itself is tinted with a Hitchcockian hue. I visualize un-squirreled peace. It is quiet, all right.

Too quiet.
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Title Annotation:City/Region
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 31, 2008
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