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Nuisance Species: Groundhogs

Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, usually are viewed as nuisance animals for homeowners and farmers. The major problems that they cause are the large holes they dig and the damage that occurs from this animal. Their holes can be 8-12 inches in size. This animal creates two, sometimes three holes, with a large tunnel system that runs from one hole to the next. They usually will have a large mound of dirt in front of the hole called a porch. Groundhogs use this to stand high to get a good view of their surroundings before making their move to venture around. Farmers get crop damage to corn, soybeans and other crops planted in fields. Groundhog dens are a major concern for farmers because of the large tunnel system they build under the ground. Farmers have been known to sink tractor tires in the ground because of the big hole that lies below the surface of the field. Most homeowners deal with groundhogs denning under their porch or shed and damaging their gardens. A den that is built next to a building or house can cause structural damage as their burrows can weaken foundation. Contrary to what most people believe, groundhogs will climb trees. Tree nurseries can face problems with them gnawing on their ornamental or fruit-bearing trees. Other wildlife such as fox or skunks will take over groundhog holes when left vacant.

If you are dealing with a nuisance groundhog on your property there are a few things you can try to prevent damage. Placing fencing around the garden or underneath your porch is a way to keep them out. However, groundhogs are good climbers and diggers. Fences should be at least 3 feet tall and made of heavy, thick wire such as hardware cloth. Burying the lower portion of the fence into the ground at least a foot should help to prevent them from digging underground. At tree nurseries, placing metal flashing or tree guards around the trees at least 3 feet high will prevent wildlife from stripping the bark and destroying the trees. Once a groundhog is present and living on your property, they are hard to get to move along. The best way to get rid of them is to physically remove them. Nuisance groundhogs can be live-trapped and relocated with permission of the landowner. If you choose not to relocate the groundhog, they can either be released on-site where the animal was originally trapped or you may humanely kill it. Refer to the American Veterinary Medical Association for guidelines on euthanasia. Landowners who chose to set traps themselves to catch groundhogs should remember that they are responsible for the animal in the trap. Each trap must be labeled with your name and address, checked every 24 hours and animals removed within 24 hours of being trapped. This is especially important to note when you are trapping within city limits. If you are trapping within city limits, you should always check with your police department to determine if there are any ordinances governing trapping in your community. If you do not want to remove the animal yourself, the Division of Wildlife licenses nuisance trappers that can be contracted with to remove the problem groundhog for a fee.

There is an open hunting season on groundhogs, meaning they may be hunted any time of the year. Refer to the Hunting and Trapping Regulations for additional information.