Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Driving along a dirt road on the Camas Prairie recently, I noticed a squat, muscular creature trotting along a field edge: a badger. Getting out of the car, I quietly trailed it, to snap some photos as it moved towards some brush.
When it noticed me, it quickly found a mound, and backed into some brush: a common badger defense. This way, it could meet any danger head on. Badgers have a reputation for being aggressive and downright ornery, and as I crept closer I thought it might charge.
But this badger was just indifferent, judging me as not much of a threat.
Badgers are a member of the Mustelidae Family, which also includes weasels, minks, martens, fishers, wolverines, otters and other predatory creatures. While many of the mustelids are known for being sleek and stream-lined, the badger is noticeably squat, round and muscular. It has to be, as it hunts its favored prey--ground squirrels--by digging after them. Some biologists report badgers that will dig into a ground squirrel hole and wait in the excavation for its prey to return. Badgers also sleep in burrows they dig, usually a different one each night.
Due to this tendency to dig lots of big holes, the badger has never been a favorite animal of those who raise livestock. But the badger has thrived in the West despite this. Idaho can lay claim to the largest population of badgers in the world, in the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. The Owyhee Backcountry Byway, the Camas Prairie and other open areas are also good places to see one.
Although badgers are common in Idaho and are unprotected by game laws, they do face familiar threats. My colleague Sus Danner tells me that badgers fare poorly when busy highways intersect their range. In California, their populations are in decline due to this fact. And on my drive home, I couldn't help but notice several dead ones along I-84 between Boise and Mountain Home. Hopefully, research can be conducted to monitor our state's badger populations. Even more important, with Idaho's rapid growth, conservationists need to think about wildlife-friendly roads--not only for badgers, but also for barn owls, mule deer, elk and a whole host of other species.
For now, though, the badger remains a common if seldom seen creature in many parts of the state. Keep an eye out the next time you're on Idaho's backroads; you might just be rewarded with your own badger encounter. -- Matt Miller