A prolific and adaptable species, the gray squirrel has been introduced to, and thrives, in several regions of the western United States. It has also been introduced to Britain, where it has spread across the country and has largely displaced the native red squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris. In Ireland, the red squirrel has been almost entirely displaced and there are concerns that the same might happen in Italy.In Europe, the reaction is strong and measured. They are eating the enemy (pictured). Yes, the critter we in the USA call Tree Rat, a profligate potential source of suburban "free-range" meat, is being market hunted for the consumer pot. The Guardian reports:- "The ultimate ethical meal: a grey squirrel...It tastes sweet, like a cross between lamb and duck. And it's selling as fast as butchers can get it."Apparently hunters are supplying the local butcher with all they can shoot; and they are selling out. (We didn't even know that in Merrie Olde England they still had "game counters" - thinking those had disappeared with the original Sherwood Forest.)
The grey squirrel, the American cousin of Britain's endangered red variety, is flying off the shelves faster than hunters can shoot them, with game butchers struggling to keep up with demand. 'We put it on the shelf and it sells. It can be a dozen squirrels a day - and they all go,' said David Simpson, the director of Kingsley Village shopping centre in Fraddon, Cornwall, whose game counter began selling grey squirrel meat two months ago.As a kid in the Wisconsin north woods, this writer ate squirrel, and can attest to it's fine quality as a natural food. A pan of wild-shot squirrel, however, is quite different from a saute' of the likely attic-nesting, trash-pilfering, birdseed-munching suburbanized invaders of British Cuisine. We are left to wonder what Beatrix Potter would have said to Curry of Squirrel Nutkin?
And, there is the difficult matter of creating a market that becomes powerful enough to eventually drive consumer choice toward other wildlife - regardless that it be an invasive species only being chewed up at present.
In the USA, market hunting of animals remains against the law, for good reason. Passenger pigeon anyone? Wild bison? In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it took naturalists and hunters, working together for many years, to form the first environmental movement and with their combined power, to convince Federal and State governments to ban the practice of market hunting outright. New England learned the hard way that it inevitably leads to extirpation once commercial interests take over the market.
Unless one is starving, having to clean one's own quarry tends to limit the amount one consumes, and keep ecosystems in balance. But market hunting, sorry to say, is UnTreeHugger.
One more bit to keep things in perspective. In the USA, most anyone except, hopefully the real nut-jobs, can own a squirrel gun and have access to public hunting grounds. Whereas, in the UK one needs not only a hunting license but also the privilege of being a landed gentry gamekeeper and access to a firearm. Different on the other side of the pond.