Population increase among marmots tunneling under graves and spreading feces in local cemetery - East Idaho News

Population increase among marmots tunneling under graves and spreading feces in local cemetery

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POCATELLO — Some visitors to a Pocatello graveyard have been shocked to find marmot holes and feces around the graves of deceased loved ones.

While there has always been marmots, or rock chucks, in the Mountain View Cemetery, there has been a population increase this year. The rodents have dug holes near a number of graves, and some of the headstones have been completely dug under. Many have feces on them.

“It just has seemed like this year they have multiplied quicker than they have in years past,” said Anne Butler, Director of the Parks and Recreation Department. “It is definitely a burden on our cemetery staff to try to keep up with the damage they are creating.”

While the city doesn’t have a way to keep track of the amount of marmots in the cemetery, Butler said the increase was apparent to anyone in the cemetery around Memorial Day weekend.

“You could drive the rear road of the cemetery and count 70 to 80 rock chucks. That’s just a large amount of animals out there,” Butler said.

Many people with family and friends buried in the cemetery became aware of this problem when they came to pay their respects.

“Unfortunately, it was right around Memorial Day that (the problem) came to a head,” Butler said.

Mountain View Cemetery
A headstone that’s been tunneled under. | Logan Ramsey, EastIdahoNews.com
Mountain View Cemetery 4
A dried dirt pile next to a headstone. | Logan Ramsey, EastIdahoNews.com
Mountain View Cemetery 3
A pile of feces in front of a headstone. | Logan Ramsey, EastIdahoNews.com

Butler understands why people are upset with the current condition of the cemetery.

“I would be upset as well. When you see a loved ones headstone being tunneled under it can be upsetting,” Butler said.

Katrina Evans, a lifetime resident of American Falls, first became aware of the condition of the cemetery on Facebook. When she went to see it for herself, she found it “disgusting.”

“You can’t take somebody elderly out there to see their parents or their husband or their wife because of those holes. They could step in one and accidentally break their leg,” Evans said.

Evans, who said that she’s been visiting the cemetery all her life, said that she’s never seen it in the condition that it’s currently in.

“It’s been bad, but not like this,” Evans said.

Conner Philson, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Exeter who conducts research in Colorado, said this population increase is likely attributed to a number of factors, including a reduction in the number of predators in the area and a favorable snowpack over the last few years.

Philson said one of the many hypotheses for why marmots live in large groups is because it offers protection from predators, including foxes, coyotes, larger sizes of hawks, golden eagles and badgers.

A good snowpack acts as a blanket for marmots who need to “get fat or die” in order to survive hibernation.

“They could have stayed warmer over winter expending less of their fat, less of their energy during hibernation and so more of them woke up from hibernation, resulting in a bigger population,” Philson said.

According to Greg Kaiser, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service Pocatello office, the last two years have had a “well above average” snowpack. The two years before that brought a below average snowpack.

While marmots are omnivores, Philson believes it’s very unlikely that the marmots are consuming human remains.

“We’ve been studying them here for 63 years. It’s very, very rare (for them to eat meat),” Philson said.

The city of Pocatello is continuing the live trapping efforts it’s always done to try and reduce the number of marmots living in the cemetery. Butler said that her department is working with Wildlife Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to “address different avenues to control the population.”

Butler said that it’s been difficult for the cemetery staff to fix the damage caused by the increased marmot population.

“We’re trying to clean it up,” Butler said. “We clean (the feces) off and then there it is again. It’s just a constant battle.”

In order to clean up the cemetery, staff will have to fill in the holes, grass will have to be replanted and if any headstones are sinking, they’ll need to be repaired. Butler hopes that as the summer progresses and gets warmer, that the marmots will go dormant and give the staff a better opportunity to address the situation.

“We’ll make sure that we have everything in order and the next year when people come out on Memorial Day that they will be pleased with what they see,” Butler said.