Tiny rodents sabotage landfill restoration

Efforts to transform New York landfills into parks are being thwarted by an adorable but destructive pest: the vole.

Landfills are prime sites for wildlife restoration. There are more than 3,500 landfills in the United States, and they can degrade water supplies and harbor pests that spread diseases. With re-planting, however, landfills can become oases for trees, shrubs, and native animals.

Gary Witmer, a researcher at the USDA National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colorado, studied two restored landfills in Long Island, New York. The landfills had been covered with soil and planted with grasses, forbs, shrubs, and trees.

At each site, Witmer tried a variety of methods to keep pests away, including rodenticide, mowing, and pea gravel. Then he monitored the seedlings’ growth for about seven months, noting damage to stems, branches, and roots. Witmer also set traps containing peanut butter, oatmeal, and apple to attract rodents and looked for tell-tale signs of the animals, such as feces and burrows.

At each plot, about 40 to 73 percent of the seedlings died or were damaged, he reports in Restoration Ecology. Witmer caught 441 rodents in the traps, and 71 percent of the critters were voles. Rabbits were responsible for less than 5 percent of the seedling damage, he estimates.

Seedlings surrounded by pea gravel barriers fared slightly better: About 39 percent were damaged and only 1 percent died. But managers might need to control the voles with rodenticides or traps as well to give the plants a fighting chance.Roberta Kwok | 16 October 2013

Source: Witmer, G.W. 2013. Evaluating habitat manipulations and rodenticides to protect seedlings from rodent damage at restored landfills in New York. Restoration Ecology doi: 10.1111/rec.12056.

Image © Rui Saraiva | Shutterstock



  • Sandra Murphy October 23, 2013 at 6:37 am

    What an absurd quagmire we get ourselves in our role as Dictator-in-Chief of Earth’s natural communities. We wreak havoc across the landscape, one manifestation of which are the thousands of landfills described in the article. Then we decide to “rehabilitate” these wastelands, but because we want absolute control over who, species-wise, we invite to our fabricated natural area, we decide that the overabundance of voles should be met with rodenticide. As if the landfill wasn’t enough of a blight on the landscape, we further poison it to create exactly what we want to see. So the rodents get poisoned, as does any animal that happens to dine on that rodent in between the time it ingests the poison (which kills by causing internal bleeding) and the time it dies–owls, hawks, coyotes, foxes, etc.


  • janet pesaturo October 23, 2013 at 7:46 am

    I agree with Sandra Murphy’s comment. Further, voles cannot live without plants, so I guarantee we won’t end up with a vole monoculture if we left them alone. There will be plants, but perhaps not the ones the “rehabilitators” want. And there will be predators feeding on those voles, but perhaps not the ones that “rehabilitators” want. We’ve already done damage enough with the landfill. Please pack up your traps and rodenticides and find something else to do.


  • Mary Van Haren October 24, 2013 at 7:44 am

    I also agree with the other posts. As a wetland biologist I designed many wetland mitigation sites and had to deal with damage to the plantings from rodents. Rodenticides were not used, we placed plastic tubes around the base of the trees and shrubs. They were removed several years later. May be more labor intensive but better for the environment.


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