A post on the North Carolina Cooperative Extension website ends with a note of hope from the retired extension agent who wrote it: "Moles can be frustrating, but with patience and persistence the damage can be minimized."
That observation provides little comfort to a reader in North Carolina who writes to tell me he has "a problem with moles" in his lawn.
They have been doing a lot more tunneling in the last couple of years," he writes. "I almost fell when mowing last week on account of a soft area where moles created a hole I couldn't see."
The reader says he has shelled out for "pricey" lawn treatments, but he believes these just motivate the moles to make more tunnels to get away.
"It's only a temporary fix, anyway, like a month or so, before they come back, and one's next-door neighbors have to treat their lawns, too."
North Carolina bans the use of poisons to kills moles. ("There are no chemicals that legally can be used to kill moles in North Carolina," the Cooperative Extension site tells us. "It is even illegal to mail such materials into the state.") But, my reader writes, neighboring South Carolina has no such laws, "so anybody could go there and buy the poison."
He imagines that he could drive the 50 or so miles to meet a friend in South Carolina for lunch one day and then pick up the poison there to apply to his yard.
"On the other hand," he notes, "I am a law-abiding citizen who thinks that people shouldn't flaunt laws they don't like when they inconvenience them. So, legally, I should either do nothing, risking bodily injury to myself and visiting grandchildren running around the yard (not to mention having an uglier lawn that costs me $1,200 a year for assorted applications to make it look good), or spend hundreds of dollars every year for short-term fixes, still risking bodily injury as I grow older and am more susceptible to falls."
He supposes the greater question is: "Is it ever ethical to break the law?" and suspects the answer is probably, "It depends."
In the case of the moles, it would be hard to imagine a case where it would be ethical to break the law and poison the moles. Even in the highly unlikely circumstance that my reader might find himself under direct physical attack by a mole, it's much more likely he would want to use a method of defense that works far more quickly than poison. (Directly confronting a mole is not recommended, since they can carry rabies.)
My reader should continue to follow the law and refrain from using poison to kill the moles. He could try to convince his neighbors to treat their lawns to help the effort, but he can't force them to care as much about the issue as he does.
As frustrating as it might be to control the varmints, my reader is doing the right thing by exploring all the options available to him to rid himself of the pests. Even the retired extension agent suggests that "minimizing" the problem is the best that can be hoped for. With that in mind, he can make the drive to South Carolina to have a pleasant lunch with his friend with no poison having to change hands.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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(c) 2012 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.