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from the Sacramento Bee

    Meadow mice invasion menaces, divides Rocklin

By Art Campos Bee Staff Writer (Published July 3, 2001)

They're cute and furry, measure about 4 to 8 inches long and prefer to live in grassy fields away from other animals and people.

But the construction of homes and a mild winter are believed to be reasons why thousands of meadow mice have invaded back yards in Rocklin and caused something of a panic.

The mice, known as voles, have been chewing up plants and grass, eating through sprinkler systems and nibbling on wooden decks.

And lately, they have been turning up dead by the dozens in people's swimming pools.

(continued below)

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"We are at the end of our wits," said Mary Battista, who lives on Windham Way in Stanford Ranch. "It's been a nightmare."

"I've taken 35 out of my swimming pool in the past five weeks," said Darci Weller, another Rocklin resident. "And we found a dead one in our garage, which tells us there are probably some in there too."

Last week, Battista, Weller and other residents went before the Rocklin City Council to plead for help in the fight against voles.

But city leaders -- as well as health officials for Placer County and the state of California -- say the infestation is a cyclical part of nature and that the problem will solve itself.

"I can understand the people's anger," said Carlos Urrutia, Rocklin city manager. "Unfortunately, there's not much we can do for them. I believe that most people are dealing with the problem themselves."

Ken Townzen, a supervising public health biologist for the state Department of Health Services, said the voles will eventually disappear.

"Basically, you just have to wait them out," he said. "They are out of their habitat and they'll die off."

Townzen said invasions of voles in neighborhoods are not uncommon. He's seen at least a dozen cases in his 30 years with the state, including a vole infestation last year in the Folsom and El Dorado Hills areas.

"It's the supergrowth in these areas," Townzen said. "The voles lose their habitat and they go in search of another."

The rodents often find nearby yards and feast on homeowners' gardens and lawns. They rarely go inside homes, preferring to burrow under grass.

Urrutia said he experienced a vole invasion 20 years ago when he was city manager of Soledad.

"I was getting as many as 30 a day in my back yard," he said. "I was trapping them left and right. The problem lasted a couple of months and then it was over."

But the "wait-it-out" approach and statements by government officials that meadow voles aren't generally a health risk to humans displease Stanford Ranch residents.

Some are talking about shooting the small critters while others are considering spreading poison in their yards.

City officials frown on both ideas because the firing of guns violates a city ordinance, and the poisoning could lead to the deaths of cats and dogs or be harmful to small children.

Lou Verna of Windham Way said neighbors are considering the extreme measures because Rocklin officials are "hiding their heads in the sand."

"Voles have a negative impact," he said. "They can and do carry diseases. The potential is there for tapeworms and parasites. And my neighbors are finding dead voles in their swimming pools.

"It's a sad state of affairs when a city that claims to care about your quality of life doesn't tell you that the quality also means you have to trap rats."

Verna said the city should hand out free traps to residents or sell them bait at reduced rates.

"The city needs to take some ownership over this problem," he said. "They're the ones who helped create this nuisance by approving so much construction."

Ken Mollison, a Windham Way resident who has killed hundreds of voles in recent weeks, said construction of homes on the small hills behind Windham and Augusta ways and Stephanie Drive has driven away snakes, owls and coyotes -- the natural predators that feed on voles.

"It's allowed the voles to multiply and come into our neighborhoods," he said.

Mollison said the rodents have left 250 holes in his back yard.

"I have 100 traps in my yard," he said. "The voles have been eating up my vegetable garden."

Battista said that voles, which live only 11 months, are ready to reproduce just 21 days after being born.

"They are capable of five to 10 litters a year," she said. "So the potential for them to be around for a while is there."

Although city officials are confident the vole problem will fade away, they plan to meet with Townzen's state vector control department and with the Placer County Environmental Health Department to see if there is anything the trio of agencies can do.

"My sense is that we're going to hear what we've been hearing up to now, 'Let the cycle pass,' " Urrutia said.

Copyright © The Sacramento Bee

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