Conservation biology is not to be taken lightly. For example, Richardson’s ground squirrels pose a threat to national security.
How you may ask? Well it’s quite simple; try to kick them out of their natural setting by placing a nuclear missile base in the middle of their territory. This has demanded the attention of many scientist and extensive research on how to keep these rodents out of a military base.
These ground squirrels live in the northern states of the U.S. where they carry out task such as burrowing for hibernation, fleeing like cowards from predators, and other very crucial duties. Humans occupy the same area in Montana with purposes like national security.
So while ground squirrels are busy building 30 feet long, 6 feet deep tunnels through concrete and even metal—rather impressive to be honest—humans are maintaining things like Malmstrom Air Force Base and its 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, each of which contains a nuclear warhead.
In case those vague descriptions didn’t sink in:
- Ground squirrel tunnels 10 yards long (a first down distance for those football fans) and 2 yards deep
- Each 1 out of the 150 missiles at Malmstrom has at least 15 times the explosive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
Now to be honest, due to stringent processes it is highly unlikely to have a nuclear accident, let alone one caused by a Richardson’s ground squirrel; but that does not mean these rodents should be ignored. They cause destruction to a lesser degree.
By nibbling wire and burrowing near missile silos, they have threatened the base’s infrastructure and mission readiness. Above all though, these squirrels continuously trip the motion sensors near the missile silo—which doesn’t sound that bad. But when you consider Malmstrom’s missile silos dispersed across 23,000 square miles and having to clear each security threat, it suddenly becomes a huge waste of time and fuel.
Hence experts were brought in to solve this pest problem. To be specific, the Department of Defense reached out to the Natural Wildlife Research Center.
Scientist such as Gary Whitmer carried out simple experiments. Put a squirrel on one side of a fence, a delicious treat on the other side, and test what material can keep the squirrel from getting the food (keeping in mind the squirrel might try to go above or below ground). Numerous things were tested and failed such as steel coils.
What material could possibly be better at keeping squirrels out then? Scientist found that clear hard plastic was too slippery for the rodents to climb above ground. Similarly, they found pea gravel filled trenches to be impossible for squirrels to burrow through—as they collapse easily—so the squirrels didn’t even bother.
Thanks to these findings, soldiers of the 341st Missile Wing no longer have to play pest control and can now focus on matters of national security and their role—being able to launch a nuclear missile at a moment’s notice.
MISSILE THREAT, a project of the George C. Marshall and Claremont Institutes
Article by Joseph Stromberg at http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2013/08/how-one-nuclear-missile-base-is-battling-ground-squirrels/