By Becca Robbins

Ground squirrels are burrowing at Mount Hope Cemetery, digging holes in the grass that are making some visitors, such as JoAnn Hale, upset.

Hale’s husband, Fred,was buried at the city-owned cemetery 19 years ago, and she tries to decorate his grave about twice a year.

But lately, as she’s getting older and the ground is getting rougher with squirrel burrows, Hale has had a harder time getting to her husband’s grave.

“The ground’s bumpy, and I’m crippled,” said Hale, who is 83. “They’re everywhere. I’ve lived here 51 years, and I’ve never seen it like this.”

Joyce Bornstedt, the city’s technical administrative supervisor, said the cemetery’s maintenance contractor is “doing everything they can think of” to get rid of what she estimates to be thousands of squirrels. She said workers have tried using traps, poison and even pellet guns to pare the growing population.

Hale said that during her last visit, two days before Memorial Day, the ground was particularly bad and she had to use her walker to get around.

“There are big ones and little ones so you know they’re only going to grow,” she said of the squirrels. “If you don’t get rid of them, what’ll it be like in two to three years?”

Bornstedt said that in addition to the warmer weather, the infestation has become much worse with the former state offices, north of the cemetery, being vacant for the past several years.

“The drier conditions have made it worse, and it’s even drier surrounding the cemetery,” Bornstedt said.

According to Terminix pest control company, ground squirrel burrows can be four inches in diameter and up to six feet deep. The website also says they’re particularly active on warm, sunny days, something Hale said she’s noticed, too.

Hale said the methods the city’s used to try to get rid of the animals so far haven’t been effective.

“It’s not going to get better by giving up,” she said. “If they were taking care of the cemetery like they should’ve, then it wouldn’t have happened in the first place.”

See more in the June 27, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.