by Susan Michaud
Wildlife is one of the reasons many move to the high country; however, not all wildlife is appreciated equally. There are the majestic moose and elk, the elusive mountain lion, and the occasionally ornery black bear. Then there are the nuisances, and at the top of the list is the badger whose signature is the giant holes we see along the roadsides and in meadows and pastures.
Identifying a badger
The badger is considered a burrowing Mustelid and is in the same family as weasels, ferrets, otters, and wolverines. They eat small mammals, birds, and insects; however, as opportunists, they won’t turn down a chicken or lamb if they can get to it. The average male weighs around 19 pounds while the smaller female averages 14 pounds. They have short, strong legs with long claws on their front legs that they use for digging. They are shaggy with long, gray guard hairs, black cheek spots, and a white stripe from the nose up to the forehead. Found in elevations of up to 12,000 feet, badgers prefer open country with light to moderate cover like the pastures and rangeland inhabited by the burrowing rodents that they hunt.
Being active at night and in their den during daylight hours, badgers are most likely to be seen at dawn or dusk. They do not hibernate, but during the winter months, they will spend much of their time in their dens. Researchers believe that they go into a state of torpor, a period of around 29 hours where deep sleep slows their metabolism and conserves their energy.
Although they act ferocious, they will most likely retreat if threatened unless they are seriously provoked. And like most species, they are more aggressive if there are young to defend.
When asking Gore Pass residents and neighboring ranchers about their run-ins with the squatty, striped-face, rodent hunter, many hadn’t seen one, or if they had, their opinion was that they were cranky and aggressive. Maribeth Pecotte gave this perspective:
One day as I approached the stop sign at Highway 134 and Co Rd 193, I saw a bundle of grey in the tall grass at the culvert. I stopped early to see what it was. A momma badger left her young peering at us from the culvert as she ambled out of the grass and up the road, approaching my vehicle! I lost sight of her over my car’s hood as she neared, and then I saw and heard her growling and snarling at me from the bank to my right. She glared at me, standing as tall as her stubby legs would allow and her hackles on end. I marveled at her bold intensity as she threatened my car—a creature dozens of times her size. As I drive off, I heard her say to her babies, “See? All you have to do is growl and they all run away.”
They are not highly favored among the ranchers and horse owners because of their ability to dig huge holes that can easily break the legs of cattle and horses and destroy machinery.
Pat Pryor indicated that just last spring they had to put down a cow because she had stepped into a badger hole and broken her leg.
Their diggings can also destroy earthen dams and irrigation ditches. David Taussig tells this story: Irrigating one day, I came across a badger in my path. Being the fierce protectors of their territory, he began to spit and hiss. Armed with a shovel, I told Mr. Badger
to retreat. He did not and made more of a raucous. Accordingly, I had to show him the business end of my shovel, at which point, I could carry on my way. The end. It should be noted that Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) considers badgers “nuisance wildlife” and allows landowners to hunt, trap or take a badger if it “is causing damage to crops, real or personal property, or livestock.”
Kremmling local, Sami Lechman commented that she was always told to stay away from them because they will attack and, if possible, to shoot them. After all, they will cripple a good horse. This might be a better alternative as Tom Cary notes that they are difficult to trap.
Reducing badger exposure
There are a few things that can be done to reduce exposure to badgers. Kelly Croft suggested that they may be deterred by citronella oil. It seems that, yes, badgers do dislike Scotch bonnet peppers and citronella oil, but strong fencing and sturdy gates may be better at keeping them from gardens, poultry, and pets.
For our ranching neighbors, harvesting badgers and trying to keep the amount of available prey low may be their only recourse. But for smaller properties, Wild Aware Utah has a few practical suggestions:
To protect poultry and other livestock, bury fence lines 12 to 18 inches deep to prevent badgers from digging underneath.
Install high intensity, motion sensor lighting to light your property at night.
Eliminate prey attractants by controlling rodents such as pocket gophers and ground squirrels on your property.