Red and gray squirrels aren’t always a major problem for apple growers, but recent reports of high populations, and subsequent fruit damage, have some growers in the Northeast scrambling for answers. In a recent post on the Apple-Crop listserv, Kevin Iungerman, Extension Associate at Cornell University Cooperative Extension’s Northeast New York Commercial Fruit Program, noted reports from growers in the northern part of the state who were seeing much more damage than usual. As to be expected during the harvest season, control techniques such as rodenticides and shooting may not be good options. The stripping of trees of fruit by squirrels has not only affected growers, but also some research trials at Cornell’s Hudson Valley Laboratory.
The good news is that this problem will hopefully be short-lived. Paul Curtis, an Extension Wildlife Specialist in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell, attributes the problem to a large acorn crop in 2011 that attracted more red and gray squirrels to the area. This year, with a smaller acorn crop, squirrels may be looking for other food sources, with apples being an easy target. “The only good news is that these squirrel eruptions are short-lived, and the population usually crashes and is lower for several years after the event,” says Curtis.
For a fact sheet from Clemson University on gray squirrel biology and management, click here.