The onslaught of winter weather has left some residents of southern Blaine County hoping for worse.
A severe winter may be the only thing that can reduce a mouse infestation that has overwhelmed farm areas around Picabo and Carey. Farm experts say the rodent invasion stretches across a four-county area of south-central Idaho.Mouse populations are cyclical, but the explosion this year is unprecedented, according to long-term residents and farmers.
Mice are leaving fields and ditches like Swiss cheese, with trails, holes and mounds everywhere. Landowners say crop loss has been substantial, and even irrigation ditches have been damaged and will need substantial repair before they can be used next season.
"You can't believe it," said Maxine Molyneux, whose family farm produces potatoes. She estimated spud losses up to 15 percent.
"This is the worst I've ever seen. Everything is just riddled."
Mice chew spuds underground and damage the roots of all crops, including hay and alfalfa. Above ground, beans are chewed in half, and grain stalks are topped.
"I don't know of anything you can do," says Nick Purdy. He raises hay and grain in Picabo. He estimates his crop losses at about 10-20 percent.
The burrowing has mangled Purdy's airstrip, making it practically unusable. "I think they're eating the dirt," he said in disbelief.
Mice have been increasing for several years. A string of mild winters has contributed to the problem, according to Bill Bell, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Twin Falls.
He said the infestation has hit hard in parts of Jerome, Lincoln and Minidoka counties, along with Blaine.
Rodent population cycles are not thoroughly understood by scientists, but a severely cold winter with little insulating snow is most likely to bring about a reduction in the animals, Bell said.