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Opinion: Meet Squamish's most energetic resident — the Douglas squirrel

Learn how Douglas squirrels shape Squamish's lush forests.
A Douglas squirrel spotted in Crumpet Woods.

Our neighbour is a noisy hoarder. He wakes us up with persistent screaming, chases others off our deck, and leaves a mess. But we still love him. He is Doug, our resident Douglas squirrel (tamiasciurus douglasii).

We are lucky in Squamish to share our beautiful home with these little brown and white squirrels. 

While B.C hosts four species of tree squirrels—including the eastern grey squirrel, the red squirrel and the flying squirrel—the Douglas squirrel lives exclusively on the south coast of B.C. in the conifer (cone-bearing) forests. 

This frenetic squirrel's hoarding behaviour plays an important role in shaping the forests here. Their favourite foods are conifer tree cones, seeds and mushrooms, all of which can be found in abundance in our pine forests, fir spruce and hemlock trees. 

Like all squirrels, the Douglas stash their food for winter, but they are unique in that they use only one location, known as a "hoard" or "midden." These locations can be underground or in tree cavities, ensuring their cache stays moist and retains its nutrition throughout the winter. As squirrels continue to bring more food to the same location year after year, these middens can grow as large as 60 centimetres deep by three metres wide. 

Thanks to this storage system and their diet, Douglas squirrels contribute greatly to the health of our forests. Seeds dropped on the ground, or cones buried and forgotten, will germinate in the spring and grow into trees. Mushrooms on the menu lead to squirrel poop rich with spores. These then connect with an underground fungal network, which in turn helps nourish trees and soil.

A healthy Douglas squirrel population helps ensure that more trees will grow, and more trees ensure a healthy and productive habitat for the squirrels. It's a symbiotic match made in nature, and another reason for me to love Doug.

(Hear the Douglas squirrel.)

Alison Wald is on the board of the Squamish Environment Society.

Editor's note: Please note that we modified this story after it was posted to remove 'pine' from the subhead as our area has forests of not just pine, but also fir, spruce and hemlock.

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