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Cops ID underground flag thief


Why’s this critter collecting Stars and Stripes from city gravesites?

HUDSON—Woodchucks are not big newsmakers.

The spotlight does shine on these pudgy members of the squirrel family February 2, but compared to other woodland creatures, woodchucks, also known as, groundhogs, gophers, whistle pigs and land beavers, are not normally headline material.

That changed recently when two separate and unusual photographs of the animals came across the news desk at The Columbia Paper.

Following two brazen attacks on small American flags placed on the graves of Civil War soldiers at Hudson’s Cedar Park Cemetery in early July, Hudson Police were called in to answer the gnawing question: Whodunit?

City Police Chief Ellis Richardson said in a phone interview last week, the second incident, just a day after the first, raised heightened concerns. More of the flags, reportedly up to 75 of them, were ripped from their short wooden dowels and stolen; some of the dowels were broken.

It “seemed odd,” according to the chief, that the perpetrator(s) would come back to wreak more graveyard havoc so soon. So betting that another return to the scene of the crime was imminent, the chief called for surveillance cameras to be installed on trees around the area.

When the culprit, who apparently lives in the cemetery, made a third appearance, police had a picture.

Though he could not be certain that the fur-bearing miscreant in the photograph, which appeared to be showing more than a passing interest in a graveside flag, was the only one of its kind involved, Chief Richardson was fairly certain a woodchuck was a rodent of interest in the case.

His suspicions were further confirmed when officers using a camera mounted on a pole looked into some nearby woodchuck hideouts and saw flags and flag-remnants inside.

Eager to get to the bottom of the case and bring the flag vandal to justice, the chief said he was happy to report it was not some “rambunctious kid” who was responsible. But from a law-enforcement standpoint, he said the police force has much more serious issues to deal with and would not be spending any more time or resources on the woodchuck caper. No charges are pending.

Mike Todd, who has a nuisance wildlife and pest control business in Churchtown, has been catching woodchucks and other wayward wildlife for 30 years and has some insight into woodchuck ways.

Hired to remove pesky woodchucks that burrow under houses, outbuildings and lawns or munch on expensive garden plants, Mr. Todd said, woodchucks haul all kinds of material into their holes.

Hollowed out anywhere from 6 to 10 inches around, a burrow is generally excavated into the ground at an angle and can be up to 60-feet in length. At the end of the channel, the critter makes a nest, said Mr. Todd. Though they normally use leaves and other natural stuff for bedding, Mr. Todd has seen them swipe the seat cushions off patio furniture, chew a hole in them and pull the stuffing out and yank low-hanging items off clotheslines—all in an effort to add a bit of comfort to their subterranean places of repose. Those flags may have filled the bill for that graveyard homemaker, said Mr. Todd, noting such manmade materials are good insulation and make life “a lot nicer down in that apartment.”

Though he had not yet gotten a response from the Hudson mayor, Mr. Todd said he offered to catch the graveyard woodchuck(s) free of charge. He said he didn’t know if the woodchucks had done any damage besides to the flags, but noted tunneling under and around tombstones could well cause them to tip over.

Mr. Todd uses cage traps to capture woodchucks and then relocates them, but contrary to what a lot people think, “It’s not like they run right in” the trap. Noting the woodchuck’s vegetarian eating habits, Mr. Todd doesn’t want to give away any trade secrets for enticing woodchucks, but said he uses oils, scents and fruits, which the varmints like, but can’t readily get.

Even so, he said, “woodchucks are like people, some of them are cautious and they’ll never go in.”

Though woodchuck literature has them topping off at somewhere around 12 pounds, Mr. Todd has seen them weigh in at 20 pounds or more around here. “They live pretty good in this area. They like flowers and vegetables and everything green,” said Mr. Todd.

Apparently, some like red, white and blue too.

Another local woodchuck, this one law-abiding so far, was called to our attention by Cindy Meyers of Old Chatham, who looked out on her lawn in early July to see a small white critter lurking around some pine trees.

Mrs. Meyer and her daughter, Lindsay, got up as close to the animal as 20 feet, allowing them to identify it as a young albino woodchuck.

Lindsay took photos and sent some to us—the animal’s pink eyes and nose are clearly visible.

Mrs. Meyer said after seeing the woodchuck on one side of her house, then seeing it again within in seconds on the other side, she believes there are two of them.

The family watches the snowy animal hiding and digging beyond the boundaries of the Invisible Fence, which keeps their two dogs at bay.

After keeping tabs on the woodchuck for three and a half weeks, Mrs. Meyer said she didn’t see it for 12 days and feared its coloring had made it an easy target for some predator.

She was relieved to report a sighting again this week.

In light of the Hudson case, we asked if the woodchuck has exhibited any suspicious behavior. Mrs. Meyer said, so far, the flag on her lawn remains intact.

To contact Diane Valden email

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