"The marmots are coming, the marmots are coming." Seniors living in Wine Country Villa probably wish they had gotten such a warning.
Residents say the oversized rodents are swarming through the 75-unit development of manufactured homes near the airport of this Eastern Washington town, burrowing under homes, fouling front porches with their droppings and — according to some unconfirmed accounts — attacking people.
Many species of marmots, including some known as woodchucks and groundhogs, are found across North America. They are closely related to ground squirrels and are among the largest of rodents, some reaching 30 pounds.
"Can you imagine what they'd do to cats?" asked Dick Bain, 78, a Wine Country resident who dispatched two of the animals with a shovel Friday.
Bain said he doesn't like killing animals but had to act after finding two marmots beneath a stack of carpentry wood next to his house.
"My neighbor got tackled (by marmots) two years ago and got chewed up pretty bad," Bain told the Yakima Herald-Republic.
The account could not be verified by the newspaper. Bain would not identify the man, saying his neighbor was embarrassed.
Also unconfirmed was an account that a resident got badly bitten after reaching into a water tank to remove a marmot that only appeared to be dead.
Ray Borgens, 81, said marmots leave unsavory calling cards in his carport, burrow under his house and once scooted up a ladder he left leaning against the roof.
"They were snooping around the air ducts up there," Borgens said.
Concerned about the droppings, which Bain said often are tracked indoors "even though you think you've cleaned it off," residents say officials in the Benton-Franklin Health Department have told them there's nothing the agency can do because the animals pose no public health risk, including the spread of infectious disease.
Don’t shoot even if you see the whites of their eyes
Police add that town ordinances prohibit residents from shooting the critters.
Officials in the state Department of Fish and Wildlife say residents likely will have to pay if they want to eradicate the infestation, and then only after clearing some bureaucratic hurdles. First, they must file a complaint with the agency's Yakima office, which then may refer them to a certified exterminator.
"These are not free services," agency spokeswoman Madonna Luers said. "We do not have the staff to go out there and deal with these situations."
To make the area less attractive to marmots, she advised securing garbage cans and other potential sources of food or nesting material.
She also advised trying to avoid marmot confrontations.
"They've probably become pretty accustomed to people," Luers said, "and it's not an animal you want to tangle with."