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For critters, bugs -- fields of dreams from a wet June

The green, green grass of summer.

We've been drenched with more than twice as much rain as normally this June, creating lush lawns and robust shrubs.

But it also has caused headaches for anyone with a lawn -- and for people, particularly city residents, whose homes border vacant lots.

Waist-high fields, mosquito invasions and increased sightings of woodchucks and rodents are making it difficult for many folks to see any splendor in the grass.

The National Weather Service's Cheektowaga office reports that the region received more than 7.3 inches of rain in the first 24 days of June -- about 145 percent above the norm. We've had the fifth-wettest June since record-keeping began more than 140 years ago.

"We're in striking distance of fourth place," said meteorologist Chuck Tingley.

The wettest June ever was logged in 1928, when nearly 9.7 inches of rain drenched the region.

Complaints about conditions in empty lots throughout Buffalo more than doubled in June, compared with the same period a year ago, according to Buffalo's Citizen Services Division.

High grass and soggy conditions are ideal for a menagerie of critters and insects.

"We've had skunks, woodchucks and everything else," lamented Martha McMillan, who has lived on Brinkman Avenue in the city's Walden-Bailey neighborhood for 20 years. "And they're not shy. This is the worst I ever remember it."

Complaints about tall grass in Amherst are common, too.

"As soon as it becomes spring in the Town of Amherst, we almost immediately start getting tall grass complaints," said Amherst Building Commissioner Thomas Ketchum.

Grass is growing so fast it's hard to keep up with it in Cheektowaga.

"We're still into our first cuts," said Thomas Adamczak, supervisor of building inspectors. "We haven't even gone back to some of these places."

Cheektowaga has a worsening problem with absentee landlords who do not maintain their property and abandoned homes. In some cases, neighbors who have cut the front lawns of adjacent properties for years have given up and called the town, Adamczak said.

"With the warmer weather and rain, grass is growing faster," he added.

Some locales have become fields of dreams for four-legged occupants. The president of the Seneca-Babcock block club recently spotted an opossum in some high grass as he was mowing a lawn.

"Conditions in some places are really horrible," said Arthur Robinson Jr., who volunteers to cut about 30 vacant lots in his Buffalo neighborhood.

Mosquitoes are out in full force, he added.

"The insect population absolutely loves this wet weather," said Sharon Webber, a horticulturist with Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Mosquitoes, ticks and carpenter ants thrive in moist surroundings, said Webber. So do leaf-eating snails and slugs, and Webber said they've been feasting in gardens across Western New York.

But mosquitoes should not be a problem unless there is standing water for them to breed, according to Erie County Health Department spokesman Kevin Montgomery. Tall grass might draw field mice to the area, but rats would not be attracted by the grass alone.

"Rats like to pitch their tent next to their food source," Montgomery said.

In Buffalo, eight to 10 public works crews have been tackling an average of 120 vacant lots each day. About 5,000 lots have been mowed since the season began six weeks ago, said Streets Director Henry Jackson said.

"But the weather has slowed us down," Jackson said. "All the rain has made for some iffy days."

Complaints in the city have become so prevalent that Lovejoy Common Council Member Richard A. Fontana and a couple of staffers in his office have been trolling neighborhoods with mowers, cutting high grass in many vacant lots. If they're privately owned, the city bills the owner.

"The grass in some lots has been up to my navel," he said.

Suburban golf courses are finding grass coming to life with the rain combined with the fertilizer they put on in the spring.

"We were cutting fairways at five-eighths of an inch Monday-Wednesday-Friday, now we have to cut every day when its raining," said Gary Raszewski, golf course crew chief in the Town of Tonawanda. "Trying to keep up with them is just a nightmare."

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