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New Hampshire’s Department of Military Affairs and Veterans Services has set its sights on woodchucks and, if all goes according to the operational plan, it will be a take-no-prisoners affair. The conflict is centered on the department’s State Military Reservation in Concord. There, pesky woodchucks, called groundhogs in many other states, have overeaten their welcome in the wild lupine chow hall. Wild lupine is a New Hampshire threatened species and primary food source for the Karner blue butterfly, a federally listed endangered species.

The Military Affairs and Veterans Services Department is seeking permission from the state’s Executive Council to use $2,485 in federal money to lethally trap the woodchucks. Trappers with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) would handle the duties under a cooperative service agreement. In his March 3 formal funding request to the Executive Council, Adjutant Gen. David Mikolaities stated that the reservation is overrun with woodchucks. So far, 23 woodchuck dens have been located. When woodchucks eat the wild lupine, they may also be consuming Karner blue butterfly larvae, preventing these pollinating insects from reproducing.

“It’s like cotton candy to them,” department spokesman Lt. Col. Gregory Heilshorn told the Concord Monitor. Restoring and maintaining Karner blue butterfly habitat is a responsibility of the Military Affairs and Veterans Services Department according to a biological opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Before selecting APHIS to do the job, reservation solicited four private companies. The funding request states that two companies indicated they couldn’t do the work; another didn’t reply, and the fourth offered a bid of $46,400.

Heilshorn told the Concord Monitor that lethal controls weren’t a first option, noting that garlic and coyote urine deterrents were tried with marginal success. They then tried trapping and relocating, catching possums and skunks in addition to some woodchucks.

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“This is the first time we’ve gone to this kind of control because the problem has just become exponentially greater,” he said. “Other than endangering the Karner blue butterflies, they are not affecting any day-to-day operations of the guard. If it weren’t for the lupine, which is the habitat of the Karner blue butterfly, we wouldn’t be pursuing this.”

Before completing the work, APHIS is required to determine that the trapping and removal comply with federal regulatory hoops such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and any other applicable federal statutes.

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