The Associated Press

TUCSON _ The ground squirrels may have outsmarted themselves.

City officials trying to rid a midtown park of the rodents wanted to do it humanely, with a giant vacuum cleaner that was supposed to suck the pests from their burrows.

But the Reid Park squirrels evaded capture that way, so officials have no choice but to poison them, said Terry Anderson, the city's risk management director.

"Ten years ago, they'd come with .22s and blast the little suckers," Anderson said Wednesday. "But you can't do that any more. You have to be evironmentally sensitive."

The squirrel problem cost the city about $70,000 last year in personal injury lawsuits by people who got hurt stepping in rodent holes.

"They're breeding like mad, and of course the kids are feeding them so they're nice and fat and having more babies," Anderson said, adding there's no intention of getting rid of the animals completely.

"We're just trying to keep it down to a dull roar," Anderson said. "I don't think we're ever going to get rid of them. It's becoming a nightmare."

The city has installed a box of bait laced with slow-acting poison in the park. The box is designed to make the poison accessible to the ground squirrels, but not to children or pets.

The squirrels are supposed to die out of sight in their burrows.

"They don't stand up and put their little paw around their throats in front of the kids," Anderson said.

If the test works, it will be expanded, Anderson said. And the exterminators might add birth-control treats to the poison bait, he said.