Squirrel population boom hits apple farmers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Squirrel population boom hits apple farmers

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Mille Steingrass Mille Steingrass

Branch by branch, staff members at Mendon Mountain Orchard try to salvage what's left of their business this season.

"Nobody wants them really, you know. nobody wants them," said the orchard's Mille Steingrass.

By mid October, the apples on the trees should be picked bare, but this year, they're still full of fruit nobody wants to take home.

"We've certainly seen a lot of squirrel damage and of course it makes the apples unattractive, so people don't want them," Steingrass said.

Steingrass said it's easy to tell which of the apples on the branches the squirrels have tasted because they leave behind two big gashes that take a big bite out of her business.

Steingrass sells most of the crop as baked goods and said bad apples are bad for business -- sales are down about 15 percent.  

"Everything we make requires prime apples. We use, even in our cider... hand-picked apples off the trees. We don't use even drops," she said.

And in her 32 years of ownership, she said she's never seen the squirrel population so high.
"This has been a record year, alright," she said.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife's Forrest Hammond said a natural eruption in the small rodent population is to blame. "The past year we had a really good food year -- a lot of nuts were produced. Most trees that could produce nuts, did.  And followed by a very mild -- mildest winter we had on record," he said.

This spring the population was double the norm, which made food a hot commodity, and apples became an alternative to nuts.
"They climb the trees and get them while they're nice and juicy and tasty," Steingrass said.  

But Hammond said that with every eruption in population comes an inevitable reduction. "We're going to see even heavier mortality during the winter than normal," he said.  "So next year there will actually be a very low point in the cycle on our rodent populations."

And that's good news for Steingrass and apple growers across the state.

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