We Must Address the Squirrel Crisis

Or we’ll end up in commuting purgatory.

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They are bright-eyed, they are bushy-tailed, and they might be the greatest threat to drivers in this country. Squirrels, those seemingly innocuous tree-climbing rodents, cause more damage to the national electrical infrastructure than Chinese hackers, ISIS insurgents and Vladmir Putin combined. In the past three years, some 623 power outages have been caused by squirrels gnawing through wires and accidentally arcing overhead power lines. And the problem is getting worse.

Human-squirrel interactions have always been a mixed affair. Once, they were simply sources of food and target practice for frontiersmen. Later, as the twentieth century approached, a national mania for the furry creatures swept across the land. We stocked our parks with them, made them tiny squirrel houses, hand-fed them until they were so fat they fell off the branches.

The population boomed, but we didn't care. Squirrels were cute. They were cuddly. People with bird feeders didn't like them, sure, but the rest of us spread Skippy on our wonderbread and chuckled. Aw, look at that little fella munching away. No. Squirrels are basically rats with a better PR department.

With fewer cold snaps, decreasing numbers of predators and an abundance of food, squirrel populations are blossoming across the United States. Which, were they only robbing apples from our front yard, wouldn't be a big deal. Our national power grid is already overtaxed. With the increasing popularity of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, a small squadron of squirrels could take out an entire county. Maybe even the world.

Squirrelpocalypse? It sounds ridiculous. However, the stats show that these outages happen again and again. Years from now, when the roads are a sea of Chevy Volt and Bolt and BMW i and Tesla, we’ll regret not taking action sooner. We’ll huddle in the dark, waiting for the power to come back on so we can drive to work or our loved ones. Somewhere out there, there's a chittering noise. It's coming closer. We're regretting that peanut butter sandwich.