For farmers, the beginning of the end is of little consolation in the here and now.
Before this year, John Barber never had a problem with squirrels at his 25-acre Apple Hill Orchard in Whitehall, N.Y. Now the animals are building nests in his trees and sampling different varieties of apples as the fruit matures, staying one step ahead of his pickers.
He estimates, conservatively, that he is going to lose 15 to 20 percent of his crop.
"Usually your best fruit is the fruit that's fully exposed to the sun; it gets the best color to it," Barber said. "Your size is usually out on the upper canopy of the tree. That's what they're doing; they're climbing up into the upper canopy."
Farmers aren't the only ones reporting problems.
Drivers are dodging squirrels that dart across roads or skirting ones that are killed while crossing. Hammond said he has seen carcasses on roadsides from Vermont to Connecticut.
Squirrels can also move into attics and build nests, creating a mess with droppings and urine. People commonly complain they can hear the pests scurrying through their attics at 4 a.m. They'll chew through wires, which can cause fires, said Dan Schwarzbeck, owner of the pest control company Got Wildlife? in Newburgh, N.Y.
His business, which does both commercial and residential pest control, has been getting about 60 to 120 calls a week about squirrel problems ranging from New York's Dutchess County to central New Jersey, by far the most in the 10 years he has been in business.
He sees all kinds of squirrels — gray, red and even flying squirrels, which don't really fly but have a flap of skin that helps them glide from tree to tree.
"The gray is the most destructive and the widely spread. We get the flyers, but it's in select areas," he said. "The gray, you can get them in urban, you can get them in cities, rural it doesn't matter."
Boston, the Vermont orchardist, is also a pest control consultant for orchards.
"I am somewhat stunned. You get used to looking at disasters," he said. "It just happens, but this one is new. It's different."
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