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Badgers Coming Back to Orange County

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A sighting of the elusive American badger means good news for local habitat.

An American badger was reported in February near OC Parks’ Santiago Oaks Regional Park in Orange, the first local sighting in nearly a decade. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife lists the animal as a “species of special concern,” meaning that while it is not threatened or endangered, its population has been in serious decline.

On par with the coyote and bobcat, the badger is a top predator, and evidence that the mammal resides in Orange County wilderness is a good sign of the overall health of the local ecosystem. Badgers are efficient predators of both small mammals and rodents, whose populations are higher due to the variety and abundance of food in their habitat. The health of badgers at the top of the food chain indicates health at the bottom of the food chain as well.

Badgers are solitary and nomadic animals with very large territories for their size, rarely staying any longer than a few nights in one area before moving on.. The badger spotted this year was flimed by the Baker family of Orange, and Irvine Ranch Conservancy volunteer John Ganahl notified the Conservancy. In the video, the badger is seen hunting for prey, digging after it, and then eating the unlucky rodent. Irvine Ranch Conservancy scientists reviewed the footage and confirmed the sighting. 

 “Badgers are so rare and elusive, we were surprised to see the video,” said Irvine Ranch Conservancy Director of Science & Stewardship Dr. Jutta Burger. “Without a confirmed sighting for so long, and no evidence of badgers from the wildlife monitoring cameras we have stationed throughout the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, we thought badgers were no longer living in our area”. 

The American Badger is a medium-sized carnivore (12-24 pounds) and a member of the weasel family. They are short, wide, and stocky, with a distinctive black and white face. Most of a badger’s physical features, like their 1 ½-inch claws, are specifically adapted for digging. They dig burrows for shelter, rearing their young, and they also hunt much of their prey by digging for them. Badgers dig burrow entrances in an oval shape (8-12 inches at the widest part), rather than a circular hole, and are found mostly in grasslands and open areas. 

If you see a wide, oval burrow entrance along a trail or think you may have seen a badger, reporting the sighting will help land managers track the population. It is critical to not disturb the animal or its burrow in any way. Reports of sightings (with locations and pictures, if available) can be sent to info@irconservancy.org

The best thing you can do to help encourage the return of more badgers is to participate in habitat restoration. Restoring healthy habitat can help ensure the success of the badger on the Landmarks. If you would like more information about volunteering, visit www.LetsGoOutside.org/Activities and select the Stewardship category at the top of the activities listing.