Above: Young trees are a common target for rabbits during the winter.
Rabbits are out in force! You may have noticed the bark missing from the lower trunks of young trees. When I walked through several shelterbelts last week, every tree and shrub was cut off at about 1 foot as cleanly as if someone came by with a pair of hand pruners. Rabbits can chew bark off larger trees up to a height of 18-to-20 inches above the snow line (under the snow line the chewing is usually done by voles or mice), and the damage is most common to trees such as crabapples, apples, honeylocust, and maples. Shrub damage is usually entire twigs or stems cut cleanly at a 45-degree angle. You’ll often find small brown droppings on the snow near these plants.
Above: Rabbts can chew bark off of trees and branches up to 20 inches above the snow line.
What to do to avoid this problem?
The best method is to remove any hiding cover; brush and woodpiles are perfect habitat for rabbits and should be removed. Valuable shrub beds can also be fenced off, but the fence, typically chicken wire, must be at least 3-feet tall, above the snow line, and tight with the ground. It is probably a little late to begin thinking about fencing. However, it might not be too late to apply some repellents during some of the warmer winter days.
Repellents work one of two ways, those being 1) Odor: usually mimicking the odor of a predator (typically the urine) or 2) Taste/Irritation: such as capsaicin (think of hot peppers). Usually repellents based on odor are more effective than taste/irritation, but not always, so it never hurts to experiment a little bit.
Finally, don’t live trap them. No one else wants them either and most animals that are released in unfamiliar territory have a very short life span.
For more updates and information, go to the South Dakota Department of Agrigulture’s Pest Update website.