200 Years of Illinois: White Squirrel Roundup

This weekend, citizens in Olney will begin the annual census of the town’s famous albino squirrel population, to see just how the white varmints have fared over the past year. White squirrels have a presence in Olney. They appear on the police cars, park district signs, garbage cans, the newspaper’s logo, T-shirts, and of course in the souvenir shops. Laws protect their right to cross avenues and sidewalks first. Village regs prohibit anyone from taking a white squirrel beyond the city limits. Caring citizens provide squirrel houses and put out feeding boxes and watering stations. The town even provides free corn.

olneyWith white squirrels such a cornerstone of civic pride and business, the villagers take great care to monitor the rodents’ numbers. People troupe out the last three Saturdays in October to count white squirrels and, some say, make sure the lucrative little nut-eaters don’t start emigrating to other towns.

According to news stories, the count of these bleached members of the Sciuridae family peaks at around 150 these days, down from the high of 1000 or more in the 1970s. Cats and cars number among the culprits, though science—albinism is a recessive genetic trait—is also at work. Worryingly, the census takers only found 88 white squirrels in 2015, prompting local officials to use a Sternly Worded Memo:

A conscious effort needs to be made by residents if Olney’s white squirrel population is to survive. We, as a community, need to decide if we are going to continue to support our white squirrel population before they become non-existent.

Alas, as a Business Insider story noted, “The mayor told PBS’s The Good Stuff that attempts to put legal limits on cat owners have not gone well.”