PROSSER, Wash. (AP) — Talk about an uninvited dinner guest.

Diners at a restaurant in Prosser were startled Monday when a furry marmot wandered through the front door and settled into a corner.

was no surprise to city Administrator Charlie Bush, who says the big
rodents have long been a problem in the central Washington wine town.

“I know there’s a lot of marmots in Prosser, there’s no question,” Bush told the Tri-City Herald. “They’re happy marmots. They’re fat, they’re having a good time.”

Many species of marmots,
including some known as woodchucks and groundhogs, are found across
North America. They are closely related to ground squirrels and are
among the largest of rodents, some reaching 30 pounds.

burrowing critters have long been a nuisance in this Yakima Valley
city, where they dig through gardens, add unwanted mounds to yards and
even chew through electrical wires.

In 2006 and 2007, the city
paid $5,700 over two years to hire trappers to thin the population. But
last year, the City Council ran short of money and decided to get out
of the marmot-control business.

Instead, city officials are recommending residents call the state Department of Fish and Wildlife if they’re having marmot problems.

Ted Clausing, regional wildlife program manager in Fish and Wildlife’s Yakima office, said marmot numbers tend to surge around June, after they’ve emerged from hibernation and nurtured the year’s litter.

“They are really prolific when they’re in an area that’s protected,” he said. “They’re really visible in the spring and summer.”

years ago, residents complained that the rodents were swarming a
75-unit development of manufactured homes near the Prosser airport,
burrowing under homes and fouling front porches with their droppings.
There were even unconfirmed accounts of marmots attacking people.

Town ordinances prohibit residents from shooting the critters.

Many marmots
can be found along the city’s popular Wine Country Road. But the
restaurant incident may be a sign the animals are expanding their turf.

said several people in the restaurant helped build a makeshift tunnel
out of advertising signs, and with some gentle prodding, the animal
“just took off like a shot.”

So far this year, Bush has heard no formal complaints from residents about marmots.

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