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Getting squirrelly could result in fine

November 2, 2006

As students, faculty and staff go about their business on the UW-River Falls campus, squirrels are busy scurrying about, burying nuts, digging through trash cans and taunting passersby.

“They appear to be a healthy, happy bunch and are not overpopulated,” sophomore Kim Altenhofen said. “They are also always fun to watch as they scurry around campus.”

During freshman orientation, new students are informed that they should refrain from harassing and interacting with the squirrels that populate the campus. Doing so could result in a citation.

According to the UW System Administrative Code, the harassment of squirrels is a prohibited act. In Chapter 18, Section 6 of the code, it is stated, “No person may remove, destroy, or molest any bird, animal or fish life within the boundaries of university lands except as authorized by the chief administrative officer or except when this provision conflicts with a special order of the Department of Natural Resources.”

This means that anyone who attempts to harm or interfere with the squirrel population, or any other creature on university property, may receive a fine.

At UWRF, students who are caught in the act of terrorizing animals will be subject to a $186 citation. The same is true for all other UW institutions. Because this is a statewide policy, all students at Wisconsin universities must pay this forfeiture. Public Safety Operations Program Associate Wendy Penny said the current citation amount went into effect in January. The previous fine for this offense was $181.

Though the fine is quite hefty, the simple presence of the furry critters is enough to keep students from violating the rule.

“With the small [squirrel] population I think that the fine is actually a good idea,” freshman Nate Ober said. “It keeps the students from harassing them, which keeps them here on campus.”

The squirrels that scamper about the lawns on campus are extremely tame creatures.

“I do agree with the policy we already have, though it would be nice if the fine weren’t quite as steep,” sophomore Ben Blanchard said. “But it does make the squirrels seem like they are comfortable around us, so much so you can almost pet them when they sit on top of the trash cans around campus.”

While the squirrels are friendly creatures, they have been known to startle some students as they search for food.

“I can’t count how many times I’ve seen people jump because the squirrels jump out of garbage cans at them,” sophomore Eric Vogel said.

The squirrels have become popular with students –  there are 10 student-created groups on Facebook devoted to the squirrels that scamper about the campus on a daily basis.

Altenhofen created the group “UWRF Squirrel Stalkers” as a tribute to the squirrels and the humor in the fact that students could also receive monetary penalties for harassing the animals.

“The group is just a joke with funny officer positions and such,” she said. “Speaking for the group, we have no intentions of harassing or harming any of the squirrels on campus. We just all remember being told as freshmen that we should not chase the squirrels on campus because of the fine, and found that humorous enough to make our own plug on Facebook about it.”