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Getting Gassed 

In the struggle of squirrels versus humanity, who takes precedence?

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"When you look around, there are holes everywhere,” Lt. Mike Rohrscheib says of the pockmarked grounds surrounding Geiger Corrections Center. Spring has again brought out the ground squirrels, which are attracting larger animals that prey on them, including a couple of badgers.

“I was even told there was a bear out here years ago,” Rohrscheib says, “but that may be an urban legend.”

Geiger contacted Critter Control, a local animal removal service, and Critter Control, in turn, placed around 30 wire traps on the prison grounds. Earlier this week, The Inlander accompanied Curtis Buyser as he made his rounds.

Buyser pushes a wheelbarrow from one trap to another, checking for captured squirrels, swapping apple pieces in each trap for fresh ones. Soon he holds up a trap with a small squirrel inside. Then a second one.

“When their population gets to the point where they are eroding landscapes, undermining foundations, spreading disease … they’re going to be an issue,” he says.

Back at his truck, Buyser places the caged squirrels into metal box and turns the knob on a large tank of CO2 gas, transforming the box into a mini gas chamber. The squirrels’ squeaking can be heard inside.

As he drives to his next job, Buyser says the gas will put the squirrels to sleep and finally suffocate them. He believes his method is the most pain-free way to euthanize them.

“I follow American Veterinary Association standards,” he says. “I even talked to an anesthesiologist, because I was concerned about it when I first started. … It’s the most humane method.”

Not everyone is happy with his efforts, though. Chris Anderlik of Animal Advocates of the Inland Northwest says Geiger should learn to live with the squirrels. “Those are critters that have feelings,” she says. “They have a right to live.”

She says Geiger’s decision is consistent with the mindset that humans should kill anything that gets in our way. “Why do we think we’re so extra-special that we can eliminate anything that irritates us the least bit?” Anderlik suggests the facility should pursue alternative options, such as scaring the squirrels away or setting them free in another location.

Rohrscheib, however, is pleased with the job that Critter Control has done. “We’ve used them for several years.” he says. “Our options are kind of limited.”

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