Question: I heard there are some concerns with eating ground squirrels in general. Is there some truth to this? If so, why do I see recipes to cook and eat them? Are they like chicken and pork where if you ensure the meat is cooked thoroughly, you should be okay? I like to go squirrel hunting with my son, but tree squirrels may not be hunted. Ground squirrels are our only option. Any guidance would be helpful! (Highhorse L.)
Answer: California ground squirrels are not a game animal, and so from a legal standpoint, they have no bag or possession limits. If taken in the condor zone, they must be hunted with non-lead ammunition.
However, before attempting to eat them, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife veterinarians, there’s a lot we don’t know about diseases in ground squirrels. We do know they carry fleas and are highly susceptible to plague and probably die within a short period of time after exposure to the disease agent.
Also, anyone even thinking of eating ground squirrels should first make sure there is no chemical ground squirrel control going on in the area because ground squirrels are commonly controlled by anticoagulant rodenticides. If the ground squirrel consumes a non-lethal dose, the rodenticide would still persist in their tissues for a few weeks or months.
Be aware that both the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website www.cdc.gov/plague/ and the California Department of Public Health site www.cdph.ca.gov/healthinfo/discond/Pages/Plague.aspx indicate the greatest risk of acquiring plague is being around infected rodents like ground squirrels due to their fleas. Humans usually get the disease after being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an animal infected with plague. During the Middle Ages, plague is infamous for killing millions of people in Europe. Today, modern antibiotics are effective in treating plague. Without prompt treatment, the disease can cause serious illness or death.
Plague is endemic everywhere in California, except the southeastern desert and the Central Valley. It is not active everywhere in that range though, so before your hunt I suggest you contact the county public health department in the areas you will be hunting to find out the status and history of plague in those areas.
If after reading all this you’re still determined to eat them, like with all wildlife, make sure they are cooked thoroughly. Proper preparation and cooking is key to avoiding and minimizing exposure to disease.
Q: I have a question concerning spear fishing for carp. When I was a kid, we used to go into the creeks and spear big carp. On the Russian River during the fall, I would see tens of thousands of huge carp congregating. Can I let my kids go into the water with a mask and fins and spear these 10-20+ pound carps? I would think that would be helpful for the river and we can pass the meat out to our multi-cultural friends. (Anonymous)