If there's one member of Oregon's wildlife community that has the digging ability to sink out of site on bare ground, it's the badger, or to be respectful of His Honor: The American Badger, (Taxidea taxis).
I call him, His Honor, because I watched a badger pass judgment on an annoying guy, and chase him up a tree along Highway 31 in the Deschutes National Forest one sunny afternoon—only because the guy kept pestering it. When all was said and done, with His Honor snarling at his nemesis—who was clutching the branches of the lodgepole pine he'd scampered up—the guy said, "Boy! Isn't it something how such a small animal like that can cause a guy to climb a tree?"
Meeting a badger on his ground, if you can't be polite, that's a wise thing to do—get away! But really, it is just better to just let the animal be, grab a few photos if you like, and each go your merry way. Most of the time said badger retreats as quickly as possible. But if you push it too far... well, that's your choice.
If you ever have the courage and time to give a badger a dental exam you will see immediately why they can eat a ground squirrel in a minute (literally) and put people up trees.
My respect for the American Badger is keyed to the fact that the animal is a vital part of the ecosystem where they live. That's enough to give them the respect they deserve, and leave them in peace. Yes, I know; when a horse flounders in a badger hole it is not always good news... But the undeniable fact is: the badger was here first. For me, that's enough—but not, it seems for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
However, ODFW does recognize the badger as an Oregon resident. On its website you can find: "American Badger, Taxidea taxis. The badger is a medium-sized, but powerfully built carnivore strongly adapted for digging. The body is flattened, the legs are short but stout, the toes of the forefeet are partly webbed and equipped with long, curved claws; the hind feet are shaped like miniature shovels; and each eye is equipped with a membrane that can be extended to cover it. The ears are rounded and densely covered with fur, but seem large in comparison with those of many digging mammals. The tail is short and brushlike. Dorsally, the long, shaggy pelage is mottled grayish blending on the venter to light tannish or whitish. A white stripe extends from the nose pad to the shoulder, and may extend to the rump. The face is black with white splotches surrounding a black 'badge' on either cheek. In Oregon, Badgers occur throughout the region east of the Cascade Range and in eastern Jackson County wherever prey is abundant. They are largely nocturnal but occasionally may be seen abroad during daylight hours."
Yet, in spite of that description, ODFW does not have a word about how many are left in Oregon.
I have been asking ODFW what the status of the badger is, and they just don't know. That, in my opinion, is unforgivable. ODFW is charged with the responsibility of "managing" Oregon's wildlife. Wildlife biologists know the badger is an important part of all wildlife ecological interactions, but there is no known status of its disposition in Oregon—or killing restrictions.
In the Oregon statutes, badgers are classified as an "Unprotected Mammal" which means they can be killed at any time. Additionally, if you look at definition # 7, you can see that badgers are not listed (even) as an furbearer species. However, in 635-050-0165 they are included as a species that can be trapped, and there is no closed season. Isn't that grand? We have no idea how many badgers live in Oregon, but anyone can kill them anytime they feel like it.
In May, 2000, Canada listed the American Badger as a Species-at-Risk and another Canadian subspecies as Endangered. California Fish & Game designated the American Badger as a Species-of-Concern. In Oregon, we keep killing them with 1985 trapping data and regulations.
If a shooter, out for a day of killing ground squirrels, happens to see a badger digging out a few of the shooter's targets, it can be shot on sight with no legal comeback. You don't even need a current Oregon hunting or trapper's license to kill them.
In the last three years, from February to late June, my wife, Sue and I have been out on the High Desert, around crop lands, adjacent to deer winter habitat and in forests conducting a Golden Eagle census. From that time to the time of writing this column, we have yet to see a live badger, and believe you me, we've been looking. Back in the '70s, on a drive from Portland to Hood River to Bend, we'd see at least two when we got on the sunny side of the Cascades. Not any more.
Oh, yes, we've observed several old, unused badger holes, but not one living badger. "Come to think of it," says a ODFW wildlife biologist, "I haven't seen one in quite a while myself."
It will be a sad day for Oregon when the last badger your youngster sees is like this...