Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Getting squirrelly in DC

Some Washingtonians love them. Some hate them. But perhaps the prevailing sentiment toward the city's squirrels is indifference. After all, seeing a gray squirrel rushing around downtown as if he has important places to be is about as unusual as seeing a guy in a charcoal suit doing the same. But it wasn't always that way. A little more than a century ago, the District's downtown parks and green spaces didn't have a squirrel population to speak of. Eastern gray squirrels are native to this area, but they had been largely wiped out in the most urban parts of town by the late 19th century because of hunting, which wasn't outlawed in much of the city until 1906. Looking to fill the squirrel vacuum, nature lovers, government officials and other civic-minded residents in the early 1900s pushed to have areas including Lafayette Square, the U.S. Capitol grounds and the Mall stocked with squirrels. The organized release of gray squirrels into Washington's parks and green spaces is a little-known chapter in the story of the city's development. Even park historians and scientists who have studied the District's squirrel populations weren't aware of these squirrel-stocking endeavors. Source: Washington Post (via corsinet)

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