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!  Stop the city of Ottawa from killing groundhogs in area parks

August 12, 2004  Ottawa residents are outraged the learn that the city is killing groundhogs with poisonous gas in area parks.

The product used releases sulfur gas that kills the animal after a fuse has been lit and the cartridge is ablaze within the gopher's home. "Once ignited by the fuse, this cartridge will burn vigorously until completely spent and is capable of causing severe burns to exposed skin and clothes, and of igniting dry grass, leaves, and other combustible materials."

City officials should not portray death by sickening sulfur smoke and flames as a "humane" manner of dealing with wildlife.


City of Ottawa admits it killed groundhogs in park

Gassing groundhogs in Ottawa Parks is cruel, unnecessary: 3 news stories

Read letters to City Council and The Ottawa Citizen

Please phone or email your city councillor

Points to consider:

  • Gassing groundhogs is cruel and unnecessary because they do not bite unless attacked and are no health threat. They do not carry rabies.
  • Gassing a wild animal for merely creating a home cannot be considered humane.
  • Using gas is inhumane because the animals don't die immediately.
  • The city should do more to keep groundhogs and people apart in Ottawa-area parks before it resorts to killing them, e.g. posting signs warning people not to feed the animals.
  • The public outrage shows that people value wildlife and the opportunity to be able to observe and connect with nature. This is particularly true given the elimination of many neighbourhood natural areas that have been lost to development in Ottawa.
  • People regularly visit local parks because of the small urban wildlife that inhabit these areas. It is perhaps the only connection to the natural world for those without transportation or the middle class advantage of a cottage.
  • Such areas offer great educational opportunities to teach respect, understanding and knowledge of other species and the natural world.
  • Ottawa prides itself on its greenspace and, as the national capital, it should be leading the way in promoting values that respect the environment.
  • City of Ottawa Council recently unanimously endorsed recommendations to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources from the Ontario Wildlife Coalition for a more progressive response with respect to wildlife concerns.
    Embarrassingly, it now appears that it is a case of "do as I say, not as I do".
  • One of the reasons the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre closed was that City staff were not supportive of progressive wildlife approaches. It is now time for City politicians to provide leadership in consulting with the community and in developing policies for an effective and humane wildlife response - one that is based on education.

Click here to find your Ottawa city councillor contact information
or call 580-2493 to find out

Or copy the full list:

Bob.Chiarelli@ottawa.ca; Herb.Kreling@ottawa.ca; Rainer.Bloess@ottawa.ca; Jan.Harder@ottawa.ca; Peggy.Feltmate@ottawa.ca; Eli.El-Chantiry@ottawa.ca; Janet.Stavinga@ottawa.ca; Alex.Cullen@ottawa.ca; Rick.Chiarelli@ottawa.ca; Gord.Hunter@ottawa.ca; Diane.Deans@ottawa.ca; Michel.Bellemare@ottawa.ca; Georges.Bedard@ottawa.ca; Jacques.Legendre@ottawa.ca; Diane.Holmes@ottawa.ca; Shawn.Little@ottawa.ca; Maria.Mcrae@ottawa.ca; Clive.Doucet@ottawa.ca; Peter.Hume@ottawa.ca; Rob.Jellett@ottawa.ca; Doug.Thompson@ottawa.ca; Glenn.Brooks@ottawa.ca

Letters to City Council

From: Kathy Logan

September 6, 2004

Dear Councillor Holmes,

I am writing to you because I am concerned about the city's policy of gassing groundhogs.  Not only is this practice inhumane but it also does harm to our city.  I had out-of-town visitors earlier this summer who were surprised and delighted at sightings of groundhogs.  I spoke with them recently and they were appalled to learn what the city has done.  What we take for granted is, for others, a charming novelty.  The ability to observe wildlife right in the city is a part of Ottawa's appeal.

Do you know the story of the bats in Austin, Texas?  In the 80's, structural changes to the Congress Avenue Bridge made the site attractive to bats.  Bats began congregating and fearful residents began signing petitions to poison them.  A conservationist, understanding who had real power in the city, set out to educate Austin's socialites on the benefits of bats.  They, in turn, threw garden parties and functions to educate others and the bats were allowed to stay.  Today, Austin's bats (who consume up to 30,000 pounds of insects per night) have become the city's largest tourist attraction generating about eight million dollars annually and the bats are now treasured and a source of great pride.  A success story showing how a little education can go a long way.  A little education is all that is needed to deal with our groundhogs.

Austin's perception of wildlife has changed and so must ours.  I'm not suggesting that our groundhogs will generate the revenue that Austin's bats do but we can't undervalue and destroy our city's true assets.  In the end, it is not merely memories of the Parliament Buildings that tourists take home and share with others.  What stays with them is the general impression of our city with all it's greenspace and the sightings of wildlife that charmed them.  We hear this from visitors time and again - how clean our city is, how green it is.  We should take a lesson from Austin's experience with bats and recognize that our greenspace and wildlife are our city's greatest assets.  It is clear from the public's response to the groundhog issue that residents of the city already recognize this.  City Council must also recognize this and take action to preserve what we have.

Apart from tourists, the city should not lose sight of what the parks mean to our residents and why they visit these parks in the first place.  While people of all ages enjoy the parks, consider what they mean to our elderly residents.  With most entertainment and activities geared to the young, for many seniors, sitting on a park bench observing the wildlife is an enjoyable pastime.  Please don't allow this simple activity to become a thing of the past.

In your capacity as chair of the Health, Recreation and Social Services Committee, I am asking that you take steps to ensure that a review of the rodent control program is placed on the city's agenda.  I also ask that you continue to pursue steps to ensure that the services of the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre are restored to our city.  The OCWC has an invaluable role to play in both the services it can provide to our residents and as an ambassador for our city and must be a central part of the solution.

Please see my letter to Councillor Chiarelli below.  I believe it highlights the city's flawed thinking with respect to our groundhogs.

Kathy Logan

August 31, 2004

Dear Councillor Chiarelli,

I am writing to express my disgust with the city's policy of gassing groundhogs.  While articles in the Citizen earlier this month focused on a few groundhogs in Andrew Haydon Park, I believe the culling was in fact more extensive.  In a letter to the Citizen, one resident reported that burrows in another park had also been filled in, and, only days before media coverage began, I became aware of the absence of groundhogs which had previously been present along the embankments on Hunt Club Road all summer long.  The timing and sudden absence convince me that these animals met the same fate.

In trying to justify the city's actions, Councillor Cullen described the presence of groundhogs as an infestation.  The idea that we have a groundhog "infestation" is ridiculous.  This word is generally used in connection with parasites and mammals that cause harm or disease.  Groundhogs do neither.  Outside of a rural setting, these animals can not even be considered as pests - they do not dig their holes in our basements or roofs but simply build their homes outdoors where nature intended them to.

As further explanation for this inhumane practice, Councillor Cullen cited safety concerns - "they will bite".  While this has not been known to happen, if the city truly has concerns about safety, a policy of education rather than extermination would better serve everyone.  Our tax dollars would be better spent on public notices at the appropriate time of year and a few well-placed signs in our parks asking people to respect the wildlife and not feed or disturb it.  Measures of this nature would also speak well of our city to tourists and help promote our city as progressive and green-minded.

Councillor Cullen also indicated the policy is a long-standing one and exists to protect city assets.  With respect to our groundhogs, he said "They destroy the terrain because of the holes they make".  I suspect that protecting city assets is the sole intent of the policy.  Sadly, the policy fails to recognize that, for many, the wildlife present is the asset.  The city seems to think that preserving "green" space means protecting grass from unsightly holes but for many who use the parks, grass by itself holds no more charm than their own front lawn - it is the enjoyment of nature that draws them - a simple, free pleasure but one that the city is robbing us of.

City Council wants the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to end it's cull of raccoons and is asking the OMNR to adopt a more humane approach to the control of raccoon rabies.  I appreciate the city's efforts but am appalled that, just weeks after agreeing to address this important issue, the city has undermined it's credibility by engaging in an unwarranted cull of it's own.  I hope we do not have an "infestation" of hypocrites in city council.  It is time that the city abandon this "long-standing policy" and adopt one that will better reflect the values of the people it is supposed to be working for and achieve more consistency with it's own purported interest in preserving our wildlife and greenspace.

As a resident of your ward, I would like to know where you stand on this issue and what steps you will take to ensure that a review of this policy is placed on the city's agenda?

Kathy Logan
Baseline Ward
Sent by email:  Rick.Chiarelli@ottawa.ca

Canadian Federation of Humane Societies

August 18, 2004

Mayor Bob Chiarelli and members of Ottawa City Council
111 Lisgar Street
Ottawa, ON 
K2P 2L7

Dear Mayor Chiarelli and members of Ottawa City Council,

We at the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) were shocked to hear about the cityís outrageous and cruel gassing of groundhogs in Andrew Haydon Park.  We hope that the publicís widespread averse reaction has convinced you that the cityís actions were completely unacceptable and unnecessary and we strongly urge the City Council to rethink its approach to wildlife issues.

Having wild animals in the city enriches our environment and many people enjoy observing wildlife in our cityís parks.  Unfortunately, some well-meaning people like to feed wild animals and this is obviously what leads to conflicts or perceived conflicts between humans and wildlife. 

The city needs to take a more pro-active approach to educating the public about respect for wildlife and the environment.  This must start with the city switching to a humane approach to wildlife conflicts.  Killing animals must become a last resort, rather than a knee-jerk reaction.  The city must also inform the public that there is a direct co-relation between hand feeding animals and future conflicts with those animals. 

The CFHS was a strong supporter of the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre, which, as you know, played a very significant role in alleviating wildlife conflicts in our city through public awareness as well as their care of orphaned wildlife.  We encourage you to work with  the Ontario  Wildlife Coalition, spearheaded by Donna DuBreuil, to discuss how the City of Ottawa can adopt more humane and effective ways to deal with wildlife issues in our area.  As the Nationís Capital, Ottawa should strive to be a leader in such matters.

Councillor Cullen had lamented that Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources regulations prevented the City from trapping and relocating the animals.  The fact is that adult animals relocated to unfamiliar territory have little chance of survival and may leave orphaned young behind.  Not only that, but removing animals from a habitat will only create a void that will be filled by other animals and the cycle will repeat itself.  Therefore, this is not an effective solution to wildlife conflicts.

The problem with the Ontario MNR regulation is that it prevent the release of orphaned, rehabilitated, wild animals more than one kilometre from where they were rescued.   This needs to be changed so that responsible wildlife rehabilitation centres like the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre can resume their important role of caring for the hundreds of orphaned babies that are created every year by human interference.  We urge the City to communicate with the Ontario MNR in attempt to have this regulation changed.

We look forward to hearing about the Cityís plans to move towards a more humane and progressive approach to wildlife issues.


Bob Van Tongerloo

International Fund for Animal Welfare

August 12 2004

Mayor Bob Chiarelli and members of Ottawa City Council
111 Lisgar Street
Ottawa, ON K2P 2L7

Dear Mayor Chiarelli and members of Ottawa City Council,

It was with a great deal of concern that I read of the decision by the city of Ottawa to gas groundhogs in Andrew Haydon Park. The actions taken in this matter were inappropriate and I hope that lessons could be learned from this incident. I write you on behalf of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is a non-profit, global animal welfare organization. We are staffed by more than 200 experienced campaigners, educators, legal and communications experts, and internationally acclaimed scientists working from offices in 13 countries around the world, with a solid base of two million supporters.

Canadians believe very strongly that animals must be treated humanely under all circumstances. Gassing a wild animal for merely creating a home cannot be considered humane. The public outrage to this incident shows the value the people of Ottawa place on wildlife and how important it is that they be given the opportunity to connect with nature.

Given the increasing encroachment of urban development into once-wild areas, it should not be surprising that wild animals will be encountered in our neighbourhoods. People regularly visit local parks because of the small urban wildlife that inhabit these areas. For some, it is their only connection to the natural world. Rather than killing these animals, we strongly recommend that the city develop progressive policies that allow wildlife to co-exist in our urban centres. The City of Ottawa prides itself on its greenspace and, as the national capital, should be leading the way in promoting values that respect the environment.

IFAW has worked with other municipalities in the past to address the issue of animals co-existing in urban areas. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss non-lethal alternatives to last week's events.

Yours Sincerely,

Kim Elmslie
Emergency Relief Campaigner
IFAW Canada

Published letters

Gassing groundhogs is unnecessarily extreme

The Ottawa Citizen
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Re: City admits it killed groundhogs at park due to 'health, safety,' Aug. 10.

I am shocked and outraged that city officials have hired exterminators to gas groundhogs at area parks.

The wildlife in the parks is the key reason we visit these parks. I noticed recently that the groundhog holes at the park across from Billings Bridge were filled in. Now I know why.

What is next? Gas the swans because they can possibly peck people and cause harm? What about protecting us from ducks and chipmunks?

Although the city parks department should carry most of the blame for this unnecessary, inhumane practice, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources should also be getting some of the backlash. The ministry's rules plainly are not based on any form of common sense. Why not relocate a groundhog more than a kilometre from the park? The ministry should reconsider its groundhog-relocation rules and modify them so they are based on urban reality. The city and the ministry share equally in the larger picture of our city's wildlife problems.

Earlier this summer I called my vet and the humane society about some orphaned squirrels. I was told to just leave them there and hope the mother comes back. If not, then I was to let nature take its course. If I brought them in, the humane society officials would have no choice but to euthanize them. Again, this is due to the MNR's rules.

The groundhogs are not the problem. The city parks department and the ministry should find a better alternative to just getting rid of them. Gassing and killing the animals is an unnecessarily extreme approach.

Karrie Turner,

Public should be warned when groundhogs are gassed

The Ottawa Citizen
August 12, 2004

Re: City admits it killed groundhogs at park due to 'health, safety,' Aug. 10.

I was appalled by the killing of innocent groundhogs at Andrew Haydon Park, and shocked by the reckless way this was handled by the City of Ottawa.

On Monday, Bay Ward Councillor Alex Cullen announced that the city, not some malicious person trying to poison these creatures, had hired an exterminator to gas the groundhogs in the park.

When legal pesticides are used on lawns or property, signs must be posted to warn the public that toxic chemicals are present. Also, these signs must stay in view for a sufficient time period.

Similarly, there should have been signs posted informing people that a toxic substance was used to kill these groundhogs in the public park. This is a place where people are walking around and are sitting and playing on the ground. The parkland is on the Ottawa River, too.

Last week, I was one of the people who dug out the holes in an attempt to rescue these animals or find out what had happened to them. We wanted to at least find bodies so we could report our findings.

I am a person with a physical disability, and on the day that we found this problem, I got out of my wheelchair and was on the ground helping to dig out these holes. I was crawling around the disturbed earth at the holes and I was touching the earth where the toxic chemicals had been used.

Professional exterminators post signs warning the public to stay away from a property for 24 hours when these toxic chemicals have been used. Why did the city not ensure this environmental safety measure was taken at these public < Convenient cull is wrong
The Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, August 12, 2004

Once again, harmless creatures that manage to co-exist peacefully with destructive humans are being slaughtered as a matter of convenience.

I am absolutely thrilled when I walk through a park and see these creatures going about their business. They run away when approached -- obviously with reason. Shame on the city for its convenient cull. I guess the plan is that someday there will be no birds, squirrels, groundhogs or any other animals left on our planet to bother us -- we'll have it all to ourselves.

Simone Deneau,

Groundhogs harmless
The Ottawa Citizen
August 12, 2004

I am very disappointed with the city's policy of exterminating groundhogs. As a resident of the Bayshore-Nanaimo Park area, I make frequent visits to Andrew Haydon Park and delight in seeing groundhogs, squirrels, ducks and geese, as well as many varieties of natural grasses and wildflowers. It is a rare treat in the city. When I pause on my walk, I always see many people similarly enjoying the beautiful, cheerful surroundings.

Like Catherine Gardner, I have also noticed the disappearance of the groundhogs, but didn't realize that they had been killed. However, I noticed a particularly large number of geese and ducks, which were very aggressive. At one point, they surrounded me on the grass and when I moved to return to the path they followed me and honked loudly, apparently disappointed I had nothing to give them to eat. Shall I expect that their numbers will also be "humanely" reduced for my safety?

Perhaps the city government should focus on more pressing human problems, such as finding shelter for the homeless youth living in the downtown parks, rather than exterminating the harmless little groundhogs inhabiting the suburban parks.

Christine Davies,

Parkland should be shared

The Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, August 12, 2004

It saddened but did not surprise me to learn that the City of Ottawa is gassing groundhogs in Andrew Hayden Park. Why is this slaughter necessary?

I visit the park several times a week and I have never seen anyone harmed by a groundhog. Bay Ward Councillor Alex Cullen justifies the killings by claiming that park visitors can be bitten when they attempt to pet the animals.

Humans should know better than to touch a wild animal. (How would you or I react to being petted by a stranger?) Putting up signs warning visitors not to feed or approach the groundhogs in the park would be much easier and more humane than killing the animals.

Mr. Cullen claims the groundhogs "destroy the terrain." The groundhog holes are typically not found in the popular areas of the park due to the creatures' shy nature, and the holes certainly do not interfere with the path network or recreational field. It is a sad day indeed when we cannot share parkland with harmless animals that only react when they are severely provoked.

Heather Hui,

Groundhogs don't bother us so let them live

The Ottawa Citizen
August 14, 2004

Re: Groundhogs aren't at fault, Aug. 11.

Earlier in the summer as we ate dinner on our picnic table in the back yard, I found my five-year-old son needlessly crushing ants that crawled up the legs of the table. I explained that when we are outside, we are guests in the ants' home. There is no reason to kill them, for they are not hurting us. If they are bothering him, he can gently shoo them away into the grass.

Then, nibbling on my corn-on-the-cob at the same picnic table, I was waging a battle with a large fly buzzing around my head. It was then I heard my echoed words from a child's mouth: "Mom, leave the fly alone. We're in its home. Don't bother it."

I could do nothing but bite my tongue, thank my child for his keen observation and continue to attack my corn instead of the fly.

Now I read these Citizen articles and readers' letters about killing the groundhogs because, as your editorial stated, "It really is plausible one could bite, say, an unattended child who tried to play with it." Or there is the argument that these wild creatures just don't belong inside the city.

In the entire debate, there has not been one documented case (that I have found or read about) of anyone's being harmed by these creatures.

I am from the country and one of the things I love about Ottawa-Gatineau is its rich green space and wildlife. I can be on a half-hour bike ride along one of the many bike paths in our region, marvelling at how I get to see a chipmunk, a groundhog, a rabbit, and ,of course, geese and ducks, all during one short trip. There are different ways of seeing this situation. I choose to see it as an honour to be able to see these animals almost daily.

We can't get rid of all of the possible risks to our health in the world -- otherwise, we'd all live in bubbles. There would be no scraped knees from running on the sidewalk and no twisted ankles from kicking a soccer ball the wrong way.

Until Ottawa has to contend with poisonous animals or man-eating reptiles, I think our energies would be better spent being thankful for the relatively safe space we share with so many harmless and beautiful creatures of this Earth.

Erin Kuhns Carroll,

We shouldn't feed groundhogs as our pets

The Ottawa Citizen
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Re: City admits it killed groundhogs at park, AUG. 10.

Let's educate people and tell them to stay away from the groundhogs in parks instead of our civic authorities eradicating an innocent animal who is doing what comes naturally -- protecting himself and his home. I've never heard of anyone being bitten, unless of course the groundhog was being threatened or harmed.

People should apply common sense: Don't bother them and they won't bother you. Park visitors must have some sort of personal responsibility for their own actions.

If the hands of city officials are tied, as they claim, due to Ministry of Natural Resources policies, then perhaps it's time the MNR conduct a policy review. It is unconscionable that MNR policy states that groundhogs should be killed instead of finding a more humane method of dealing with them when there is a real problem.

I am shocked that my hard-earned tax dollars, which should be used for road maintenance, etc, are being used to condemn groundhogs to death simply because a few people can't or won't appreciate their presence in a natural surrounding.

Treena Charlebois,

A horror story

The Ottawa Citizen
Sunday, August 15, 2004

When I moved to Ottawa from Montreal, I saw groundhogs for the first time, from the window of a bus. I fell in love with these adorable, charming animals. The idea of public parks where humans get to interact with these beautiful little creatures seems like a fairytale. Now the City of Ottawa turned it into a horror story by murdering these innocent animals in their homes.

Those responsible for the deaths of these creatures will have their conscience to answer to, because in their hearts, they must know that what they did was wrong.

Samantha Nemiroff,

Newest complaint

The Ottawa Citizen
Sunday, August 15, 2004

The people of Ottawa have found something new to complain about as groundhogs are replacing yard waste.

The problem with the groundhogs in Andrew Haydon Park also occurs in many provincial and municipal parks throughout Ontario. People who say they love and respect nature, always end up feeding the animals. Once the animals become dependent on their new food source, their numbers increase and the balance of nature is thrown out of whack. If everyone would just observe nature in the park instead of feeding the creatures, the need to "cull" them wouldn't have happened.

Michelle Fowler,

City defies public opinion on animal control

The Ottawa Citizen
August 16, 2004

Judging from public response, the community's views about how to deal with wildlife matters seriously differ from those of city staff.

Apart from the callous cruelty of killing harmless groundhogs, it shows that there is too little consultation with citizens on the use of their parks. It also shows that Ottawa councillors need to become informed and involved in these issues as residents are becoming more and more frustrated by mean-spirited over-regulation and bad decisions.

The lack of tolerance for a weed or wildflower, the over-zealous restrictions on dogs, and now the elimination of wildlife from our parks is casting Ottawa in a very unfavourable light. We should be taking lessons from more cosmopolitan places such as Boston, where dogs and their owners play Frisbee on the Boston Commons to the delight of everyone, where resident squirrels and groundhogs are enjoyed and where a police officer provides an escort for a mother duck and her ducklings crossing a busy intersection twice daily.

Donna DuBreuil, Ottawa
Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre

Voters will react

The Ottawa Citizen
Monday, August 16, 2004

After reading with disgust the many articles and letters about groundhogs, I went to Andrew Haydon Park last week to check out what has happened to these creatures. Thankfully, the groundhog that everyone loves so much is still very much alive and kicking. However, she was frantically digging away at the holes filled with earth, probably trying to find her babies. That's where they were the last time my grandson and I were there to feed them.

Perhaps Councillor Alex Cullen should go to the park and watch this lovely groundhog trying to dig out her babies. I have never and would never vote for Mr. Cullen and I hope more people will remember this at the next election.

Terry Prime,

All published letters © The Ottawa Citizen 2004


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