Threat or Menace?

It’s time policymakers stop ignoring one of society’s biggest menaces — at least to the segment of society that gardens. I refer, of course, to chipmunks.

Spring’s thaw inevitably reveals gardens that look like artillery ranges crisscrossed by tunnels. Holes abound, and vast quantities of plants are simply gone, their roots tunneled and gnawed by the chubby-cheeked predators. By midsummer there are so many furry little heads popping in and out of holes that the yard looks like a gigantic Whack-a-Mole game.

Each morning their staccato chorus — chip! chip! chip! —- awakens us. Daily, they taunt. A miscreant perches nonchalantly on a rock, gnawing a phlox stalk clutched in its rapacious claws. A majestic thistle plant, once the size of an armchair, is reduced to a few miserable shoots. And as we watch, a little body pops out of a nearby hole. Crunch!

They scamper over the roof to shorten their trips from back to front gardens. Once our intrepid wannabe rodent hunter, house cat Daisy, was in a second floor window, transfixed by the sight of a chipmunk who’d paused in his mad dash over the house to perch on the end of a flagpole to survey the buffet arrayed below him. I think it amused him that Daisy was watching.

These are big chipmunks, seriously in need of a rodent Weight Watchers program. They say chipmunks normally leave holes the size of a silver dollar. Ha! Ours leave holes the size of softballs. One Internet site said that there are maybe two per acre. Ha! again. We have at least 3,479 on our acre and a half. And all are chomping, either eating or saving stuff. Their burrows — up to six feet long and a foot in diameter — can hold nine gallons of food, which might explain why a small brick patio riddled with chipmunk holes is now a mini-sinkhole.

Poison is out, lest we kill something else. Even if mothballs worked, there aren’t enough in the state to fill all those holes. In Kentucky, it’s legal to shoot them. But — besides not owning a functioning gun or living in Kentucky — we think chipmunks are, in a diabolical trick of nature, really cute and thus hard to kill, at least face to face. And a friend’s suggestion that chipmunks would make dandy teeny coonskin hats for little Davy Crockett dolls wouldn’t work. The only way kids today would want Davy Crockett dolls would be if he somehow won on “American Idol.”

So we’re pinning our hopes on folks in chipmunk-deprived countries, inspired by the good people of Japan who a few years back decided that prairie dogs — rodents every bit as cute as chipmunks but loathed by western farmers and ranchers — make dandy pets. Prairie dogs now live like royalty in Tokyo apartments, and their exporters are getting rich.

You listening closely here, magician-turned-Congressman Jeb Bradley? I have a proposition that will win you the eternal gratitude of besieged gardeners throughout your district. We need someone adept at sleight-of-hand to sneak into the budget one of those infamous “earmarks” — this one for a chipmunk-as-pet promotion program overseas. It would only cost a measly million or two. If the feds can underwrite the global marketing of raisins and walnuts, why not cute little rodents who would, I’m sure, just love lives of ease in the suburbs of Yokohama?

I’ve got some available for export right now. NH

Katy Burns, a writer from Bow, typically concerns herself with more compelling issues than chipmunks, but it has been a hard winter.

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