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Uninvited Invasive Pests

Each year invasive pests destroy cropland and forest. Some are new, some we’ve been fighting for decades. To fight them, a change in how we interact with our environment is starting to take place.
  • Invasive pests cost billions each year in destroyed crops and forest
  • Americans are becoming used to the restrictions required to keep these pests at bay

A snail as big as your foot, an insect the size of chocolate sprinkles and a mold related to the one that caused the Irish potato famine are on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s list of the top pests that threaten America’s crops and forestland.

Some of the 15 are new, some we’ve been fighting for decades. To attack them, “a sea change” in how we interact with our environment is starting to take place, says Scott Pfister, who directs the pest management department at the USDA’s plant protection and quarantine division in College Park, Md.

To stop insects like the Asian Citrus Psyllid or the Light Brown Apple Moth, it may no longer be OK to pick apples or oranges from a backyard tree and drive them to a friend’s house if the fruit comes from a quarantine area. Bringing firewood from home might get you turned back at a campground entrance if you live where Asian Longhorn Beetles have taken up residence. Fear of Khapra beetles means if you carry rice from India across a U.S. border, you could pay a $1,000 fine.

“We need to get Americans to start thinking about how these pests are moving around the country,” Pfister says. “April’s the time of year when people start to go camping and hiking and work in their gardens, so it’s a very appropriate time to address this national problem.”

The USDA says April is Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month.

The nasty 15 includes moths, flies, beetles, ants, a louse, a snail and two pathogens. They range from the Asian Citrus Psyllid, which threatens to destroy the U.S. orange crop, to the Giant African Snail, which will happily munch on plaster and stucco when it can’t get to one of the 500 plants it prefers. The Asian Ash Borer threatens the northern white ash trees used to make the famed Louisville slugger baseball bats.

“People don’t always take the threat posed by these pests seriously, says Ken Gilliland, director of international trade and transportation for Western Growers. His trade group represents farmers in Arizona and California, where much of the nation’s fresh produce is grown.

“It just takes one or two people” carrying infected fruit or vegetables to an uninfected area to start an infestation, he says. “They don’t see the direct impact they might have, but in the long term they’re going to pay for it in higher prices,” because of the costs involved in treating crops and inspecting them.

The Asian citrus psyllid, which has caused $4.5 billion in losses to Florida orange and grapefruit growers, got established in California when one person brought a cutting from a citrus plant home from a trip to Asia, Gilliland says: “They shared it with their neighbors, they all planted them, and it ended up resulting in a quarantine of the whole area.”

In wilderness areas, bugs are a huge threat and can change forests and tree cover in just a few years, says Chris Martin, Connecticut state forester.

When the Asian Longhorned beetle arrived in Massachusetts, “It’s been dramatic. You used to have tree-lined streets, and now these neighborhoods are just devoid of trees,” says Martin, who chairs the science and health committee of the National Association of State Foresters.

When regulators started telling people they couldn’t take firewood outside of quarantine areas because of the threat of transporting larvae, people balked, Martin says. Many private and state campgrounds in areas where beetles and borers have taken hold no longer allow outside firewood.

“It was like with recycling and seat belts. The government was telling us how to live our lives,” he says. “But over time reasonable folks came around.”

That’s the message the USDA wants to get out: Ordinary Americans can help stop the spread of pests, Pfister says. The USDA website has suggestions on how to stop the spread of invasive pests.

Gardeners, hunters, campers and hikers are the eyes and ears of state agriculture programs, he says.

“We have citizens all over the country calling us and saying that they’ve seen something,” Pfister says. “Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s nothing, but we want those calls, because citizens are our first line of defense.”

The most threatening pests:

Asian Citrus Psyllid and Citrus Greening Disease. The size of a chocolate sprinkle, it carries Citrus Greening Disease, which turns fruit bitter. Found in California, Florida.

Asian Longhorned Beetle. Infests and kills hardwood trees. Found in Massachusetts, New York and Ohio.

Emerald Ash Borer. Iridescent green insect destroys ash trees. Found in 18 Midwest and Northeast states.

European Grapevine Moth. In caterpillar stage eats grape flowers and grapes, causes rot. Found in California.

European Gypsy Moth. In caterpillar stage defoliates 300 species of trees and shrubs. Found in 21 states and D.C.

False Codling Moth. Feeds on and destroys fruit trees, plants and field crops. Eradicated in Ventura County, Calif.

Giant African Snail. Up to 8 inches long, it eats paint, plaster and stucco when it can’t get any of 500 plants. Can carry a parasite that can cause meningitis in humans. Found in Florida.

Imported Fire Ants. Sting repeatedly, causing blisters. Can kill small animals. Feed on crop plants. Found in 14 states and Puerto Rico.

Khapra Beetle. Eats grain crops and packaged foods. Not found in the United States.

Light Brown Apple Moth. Attacks 250 crops and garden plants. Found in California and Hawaii.

Mediterranean Fruit Fly. In Caterpillar stage, it feeds on nuts and vegetables, making them unfit for human consumption. Found in Hawaii.

Mexican Fruit Fly. Damaging to 50 plants, particularly citrus and mango. Eradicated in California and Texas.

Oriental Fruit Fly. Attacksmore than 230 fruits and vegetables. Found in Hawaii.

Sudden Oak Death. Kills more than 75 plant species, especially oak and California Bay Laurel trees. Found in California, Oregon.


From Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY  April 1, 2013



Forgotten Campcraft Techniques—From the First Boy Scout


An old book entitled “Camp Lore and Wood Craft”* came into my possession some time ago.  The copyright was 1920 and the by-line under the author’s name, Dan Beard, was the following:  “Founder of the First Boy Scouts Society.”  Having an ongoing interest in Boy Scouting, I shall briefly condense several intriguing outdoor subjects.

Fire-Making, The Pyropneumatic Apparatus.

At about the time of the American Revolution, the “fire ‘piston” was invented.   It consisted of a nine inch cylinder, ½ inch in diameter.  It ends in a screw which screws on to the magazine and holds some fungus, the tinder.  A rod of steel is attached to the plunger (piston) inside the tube.  A small hole in the tube allows air to enter and the rod which has a milled head.  Lard can be used to lubricate the piston when it is drawn up to the top.  A small piece unscrews which allows lubrication.  The procedure for starting a fire is to place a small piece of fungus in the chamber, then screw on the top of the piston.  Then it is important to hold the apparatus with two hands and place the end on a desk or table, either vertically or horizontally, and then force the piston down as rapidly as possibly.  Rapid compression of the air causes the fungus to take fire.  As fast as possible, unscrew the magazine, allowing the air to rush in; Dislodge the burning fungus under suitable tinder and nurse it into a flame.

Food Preparation, (Un)Dressing Wildlife

To remove the skin/fur, get a forked branch with the forks about one inch in diameter at whatever height works for you when sitting.  The lower end should be sharpened and stuck into the ground.  The two forks should be sharpened with the distance between being similar to the width of the animal.  Each sharpened fork is inserted into one of the animal’s heels.  The first order of business is to remove the skin.  Split the skin with a sharp knife from the throat to the tail.  Be careful not to penetrate the body cavity with the intestines.  At the time the tail base is reached, roll the skin back continuously.  When finished, save the pelt.  When the skin is completely detached, remove the internal organs and scent glands.  Make cuts in forearms and meaty parts of the thigh and remove all the “little white things” which look like nerves.  This will prevent cooked flesh from having a musky or strong cooked taste.

How to Harden Green Wood Gluts or Wedges

Old farmers are said to claim that the best wedges are made of applewood or locust wood.  Seasoned wedges far outperform green ones.  If applewood  cannot be found, dogwood and ironwood make satisfactory substitutes.  Early American Southern Native Americans used cane to tip their arrows, first slightly charring them with hot fire ashes.  Gluts may also be hardened similarly.  Heat just enough to force out the sap and harden the surface.

The Etiquette of the Woods—Cooking Porcupines

After a porcupine has been killed, it is best to immediately throw it into a fire to singe all of the quills off.  After the quills have been singed off, roll the carcass in grass to make certain the burned quills are rubbed off the skin.  Then, it may be skinned with no danger from the barbed quills.  With a sharp knife, slit the skin up the middle of the belly to the throat and carefully pull the skin back and peel it off.  Cut off the feet.  Properly prepared porcupine is indeed a delicacy—but only if it has been boiled in two or three changes of water first.  Then, it may be cooked in any way a camper desires.

Beard, D.  1920.  The book of camp-lore and woodcraft.  Garden City Publishing Co., Inc, Garden City, NY.  2d Ed.

The Tragedy of the Wildlife Roadkill

RoadkillDeerNegative side effects of our present day way of life are wildlife roadkills.  With our better and better vehicles which go faster and faster, wildlife often becomes the victim(s).  One report states that 253,000 animal vehicle collisions occur annually.*  On almost any public roadway, even gravel roads, year around, one often views the mangled remains of a once thriving animal.  Vehicles show no mercy, although it is rarely the purposeful intent of the motorist to hit an animal.  The result is usually particularly gruesome and one-sided.  Several tons of a moving vehicle almost always win in a direct or indirect bodily encounter at any speed.  Sometimes one sees deceased larger animals alongside the roadway with no readily apparent fatal damage, though the vehicle that caused it undoubtedly is not so fortunate.  However, much more commonly, the squashed body parts of an unfortunate smaller animal lie in the middle of the road.  These are run over time and again until there is very little remaining other than some hair/feathers and a bloody stain on the blacktop.

Inadverdant sudden and unforeseen collisions especially with birds and mammals are particularly detrimental to vehicles, also.  Repair bills for such run unto the hundreds of millions annually.  Human life has been lost on occasion—a tragic, no-win situation for either party.

Although collisions can and do occur throughout the year, they are more common during seasonal migrations, when newborns leaving protective maternal care on their own, or during hunting seasons which tend to disrupt normal game movements.  Rural areas seem to be more at risk for wildlife game collisions.  Many states place game warning signs along particularly vulnerable migrations routes and movements.  However, with numbers of White Tail and Mule deer reaching new population highs in some places, collisions even in urban areas are much more common.  I have personally seen Mule deer inadvisedly crossing busy streets in densely populated areas.

The only time I have personally had a “large” encounter was in South Carolina.  I was on my way to work early one morning.  I saw nothing, only heard and felt a “thud” on the passenger side of my vehicle.  Stopping, I found the door had some minor denting and the rear view mirror was markedly damaged.  I looked for, but never found, the white-tailed deer that ran into the side of the car, but I assume that it was not injured—probably just scarred, scared and bruised.  Living in the West and frequently traveling rural roads, I have contributed my share, but never on purpose, of deadly encounters with ground squirrels, porcupines, skunks, raccoons, and badgers.  In no case did any of the latter win the confrontation!

Unfortunately, to my knowledge, science has not yet come up with devices to either warn drivers or animals of impending danger.  Some time ago, small “whistle-like” devices mounted on the side of a vehicle were peddled as effective in preventing crashes with deer, but these seem to be mostly ineffective.  If there is an “up” side to roadkills, it is this.  As a biologist, I keep my eyes peeled for freshly killed animals along the roadway, especially in the early mornings.  Biologists are keen to find and report distributional ranges of species of animals, especially small mammals.  They inventory local fauna mostly by trapping, or deadfalls.  Sometimes, these are not effective in securing a good sampling and so do not accurately reflect local wildlife population presence.  At times, rare or exotic animals succumbing to vehicle encounters are a helpful indicator of their presence in places not otherwise documented.

More so in years past than now, biologists first trapped, then prepared “study skins” of local fauna.  A study skin is prepared by removing the skin and placing a cotton body with cottoned wire inserted into the limbs and then pinned down to dry.  For larger animals, skins only are stretched and preserved.  Skulls and bacula (penial bones) are also cleaned and preserved, as sometimes are body tissues.  This technique is not taxidermy but is very helpful for future study of taxonomic/systematic characters such as fur coloration, bone structure and measurement, dental details, etc.  Special care has to be taken to prevent insect (such as dermestid beetles) damage to the skins.  Skin collections in museums, usually universities, house tens of thousand of such specimens and are a treasure house for scientific study

I personally have collected and processed fresh roadkills.  I remember sending a red fox skin, salted down, back to the Stovall Museum when out on a prolonged collecting trip.  Arriving before the package did, upon opening it, the scent was most rancid and did not help my popularity with the secretaries!  I once picked up a fresh badger specimen and temporarily kept it in my parents home freezer.  Unfortunately, my mother had a most unpleasant surprise one day and I continued to hear about that for years; in fact, it almost became a family legend!

A discussion of roadkills would not be complete without mentioning the culinary side.*  A number of states have legalized the consumption of roadkills, including Wyoming, Montana and Utah.  For further information, the internet has a wealth of roadkill discussions.

Robinson, D.  2013.  Want a tasty treat?  Try a roadkill recipe.  Deseret News, March 5, 2013.

A Youngster’s Mule Deer Adventure

I grew up in a small Idaho farm town.  I grew up enjoying wildlife.  In the early days, I hunted English sparrows with a single shot BB gun I borrowed from my grandparants who lived only a couple of blocks away.  Some of our neighbors hunted for larger game  in the nearby mountains during the fall season.  I envied them!  Although there were undoubtedly larger game in the national forest further up the nearby canyon, I can never remember spotting elk or moose in those early days.  The latter are much more plentiful and visible today.  In those days, my summer jobs were boring enough—getting up, milking several cows, delivering about 30 daily newspapers on my faithful palomino horse Bonnie, trailing the cows to the field pasture about two miles away, hoeing weeds in the garden or going out to the fields and helping my dad with ditching.  Digging out heavy sod from the ditches has to be the hardest work in the whole world—I disliked it, but in later life came to realize that here it was where I truly learned the meaning of work!  How I looked forward to being old enough to hunt!

In October, when many of the year’s crops were already safely tucked away for winter, mule deer season opened.  The air was nippy by then and the ground was sometimes covered by frost in the early mornings and sometimes snow.  However, on most days the sun warmed things up, making it somewhat pleasant.  When I was finally 14, I purchased a hunting license.  I had no rifle of my own nor did my dad who was constantly working to support our family of nine.  So, I borrowed a 30-30 from a clerk at a neighboring hardware store in the next town over.  With my saved newspaper money, I purchased a box of twenty 30-30 shells.  I found an old red sweatshirt and I was ready to go!

One brisk October morning, Dad gave me a ride up the nearby canyon into the national forest. The area was mountainous with abundant pine and quaking aspen trees.  Deciding to go south, I crossed the creek by balancing on a log and walked slowly up a nearby mountainous “hollow” (or draw or ravine).  There was still frost on the grass and small shrubs.  The steep trail was difficult to negotiate as there were many larger rocks that had to be climbed over, walked in between or completely detoured around.  Fallen trees further challenged me.  After about an hour and a half or so of climbing, the draw opened up at the top into a plateau-like sagebrush covered flat bordered by pines.

I walked through part of the flat, sometimes through mud, up one side of another draw, climbing through pines in an easterly direction.  There were occasional  larger rocks and a stray sunflower, now with most or all of  the bright yellow petals gone with only the black seed head remaining.  Every now and then I pulled one of the seed heads from its stem and tossed it absently to the side.  Though I tried to be very quiet, no deer were heard or seen, although there were plenty of tracks.  By now, the sun had burned off most of the preceding night’s frost, but the ground was dry for the most part.  After another half hour, the hollow, which I later found was called the Overland Trail, crested on a ridge and dropped down into another draw oriented downhill and to the east.  Seeing nothing, I sat down on a smooth limestone rock and rested awhile, perhaps even dozing a bit.  Awhile later, I pricked up my ears as I thought I heard something walking through an area almost completely covered with rocks several hundred yards to the north, “Clip clop, Clip clop.”  I followed the sound with my ears the best I could even though the tree cover masked whatever was making the noise.  Now standing up and looking around me, again, in a few moments, I looked downhill from where I had just climbed.  There I saw two huge mule deer bucks, both with large antlers ambling parallel to the my ridgetop along the forested hillside towards the South probably about 100 yards away.

I had heard seasoned hunters  say that when one is about to shoot at his first deer, a severe case of “buck fever” often occurs; that is, one begins to shake with excitement to the extent of not being able to shoot accurately.  This time, such was not the case with me, however.  I cocked the old rifle by pulling back on the external hammer, sighted through the iron sights at one of the bucks and shot.   I had heard from seasoned hunters that when one is shooting downhill, the trajectory of the bullet tends to be a bit high and when shooting uphill, one needed to shoot a little high.  Did I miss?  I hurridly worked the lever to throw another bullet into the chamber of the old 30-30.   I stood perfectly still, as one of the bucks came running uphill almost directly towards me.   Apparently the sound of the shot alarmed him to the point that making a fast exit was quite important.  The only problem he had was that he had no idea where the shot originated.  As the buck ran closer and closer, I aimed and finally pulled the trigger from a distance of a mere 13 paces—and the buck dropped.  Checking to verify that my shot had been well placed—I found that it was.

Then, I did the necessary cleaning and gutting.  I used my hunting knife that I had proudly buckled on in front of my siblings earlier in the day.   I was by this time quite thrilled of getting my first deer.  I still don’t know where the time went, but it was late afternoon by the time I convinced myself that I couldn’t drag the large 150 pound plus animal down the mountain by myself.  It was very heavy.  So, I retraced my steps down the  draw to the  ravine to the canyon road and then walked or hitched a ride down the  the seven miles of dirt and graveled road to my home, arriving about 6 p.m.  I excitedly told my dad, and after a fast meal, the two of us returned up the canyon, hiking to the deer just as darkness closed in on us.  We cut the deer in half and then made the huge mistake of attempting to drag it directly down White Rock Mountain to our vehicle in the canyon below.  The mountain was well named, as there were huge white rocks twice the size of a man scattered along its sides.  We struggled with that half deer, handing it back and forth as one would clmib through through a tight place or steep place past the huge boulders in pitch black darkness.  After several hours of struggling, we finally reached the bottom of the mountain.  At least we were warm in the bitter October breeze due to our exertions.  We arrived home about midnight.  I was so tired that Dad had to milk the cows.

The next day, I related our story to a good family friend.  He instructed me to saddle up my horse, bonnie, and together with his horse loaded in his stock truck, we drove to way further up the canyon than I had been the day before.   We then rode our horses up a fairly good zig zag trail to reach the top which turned into the same flat as I had encountered before, though further west.  I was pretty worried about being able to locate my deer. What would I do if I couldn’t find it?  But, fortunately, I was able to locate it.  We loaded it onto my horse and we were able to arrive home in good time.  In the East, my buck would be an “Eight Pointer;” however, in the West, it was a “Four Pointer.”

For many years, those antlers with four forks on either side graced my bedroom’s wall in the second floor of our old Idaho brick farmhouse.

About Mule Deer or Black Tailed Deer

Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are readily identified by their large, independently twitching ears.  They are usually shades of brown with some white in coloration.  They are heavier in build than are their eastern White Tailed Deer relatives.  Mule deer are primarily found west of the Mississippi River in North America, while White Tails are common in the East.  There are extensive areas of distribution overlap between the two species.  Mating season occurs in late fall.  One to three fawns are born, the average being two.   Does take exceptionally good care of their young for almost a year.  They often secrete their fawns and return at long intervals to nurse them.   Bucks tend to remain in groups during the winters.  Mule deer are active at dawn, evening and even during the night time.  They feed on browse, shrubs, and bushes.  They prefer broken country, partially wooded terrain and are rarely seen in swampy area.

My Faith


 In the present world’s turmoil, some would ask one or more of the following questions:

“Is there a God in heaven?”

“If so, does God know and love me?”

“Why doesn’t God communicate with man any more?”

“Each year, I see my life slipping away as I get older, yet I feel no closer to God.  What do I need to do to bring him into my life so that I can be prepared to meet him before I die?”

“I have my freedom of choice in regards to choosing a religion and my personal beliefs.  Can I use the Bible as a guide in finding and choosing God’s truths today among the thousands of religious organizations that profess to be his?”

My faith:

God lives. He is our spiritual father and he knows us each by name.  He loves each of us.  He is aware of the choices we make, good and bad.  

 In order to know his will, one needs to seek it through humble prayer; this means each of us needs to find a secret place to communicate often and regularly by praying and asking for his help.  All of us draw nearer to God by asking.  If we don’t ask, it is pretty certain he may not answer.  How should one pray?  Begin by addressing God, our heavenly Father, then give thanks for many blessings, then ask for special help or assistance with any problems or questions, then close in the name of his Son (See the Book of James in New Testament, chapter 1, verses 5-6).  He will surely answer— but in his own way and in his own time.    

 Look for answers to questions in the holy scriptures by reading them each day.  The Bible is treasure house of spiritual wisdom.

 If one is serious about finding God’s truth and his actual living prophets who receive revelation, today, one just needs to ask… and keep asking.  If one is humble and truly sincere, an answer will be sent as surely as the sun rises in the mornings.  It may not be immediate, but it will come if one is sufficiently humble and sincere.  Most likely, one will not hear a voice or see a vision.  However, be prepared and sensitive to be able to recognize spiritual impressions and feelings of peace when they come.  This is the most common way of Heavenly Father’s communications to his children.

                                                                                                          E. Blake Hart

Farmer Bob and the Pocket Gopher


Hello.  I’m Guy Gopher.  I live in old farmer Bob’s prized alfalfa field—at least I used to live there.  Let me tell you about our “war.”

My two sisters and I were born in a burrow under the ground.  Mama gopher’s burrows of several dozen feet in length were located in a fertile field at the mouth of an Idaho canyon.  The sloping ground allowed rain and irrigation water to quickly drain away, so we didn’t have to worry much about being flooded out of our burrows—a main worry of many of our relatives.  Our nearby cousins living in very flat nearby fields where the farmer flood-irrigated periodically experienced awful problems, even displacement from burrows for a time, exposing them to enemy predators.

Our life was like heaven.  We were one happy gopher family!  Then it happened—Mama gopher called a family meeting.  “Guy, you and the girls are all grown up enough to dig your own burrows.”  Though we probably wouldn’t be going far, we said our fond goodbyes and each began digging our own new underground tunnels, which varied in depth between one and four feet below the surface.  Nests would be placed in the deepest parts of the tunnel with small caches of plant for food nearby.  Feeding tunnels were close enough to the surface to have access to plant roots which were our source of food.

At times, we would dig a short burrow off the main tunnel which we called laterals. One kind of lateral was a short burrow dug up to the ground surface where excess dirt from new tunnels could be pushed with the front part our chests and forefeet, forming a small, irregular “mound” of dirt on the aboveground surface. The bad part about this was that it gave our enemies instant information as to our likely whereabouts.  So, in order to disguise our main tunnel locations as much as possible, we would plug these little surface “lateral” burrows, usually located directly adjacent to the mound, with one to several feet of compact soil. The part of the field Mama suggested I go was at the edge of a productive alfalfa field and in a raspberry patch.  I loved the taste of alfalfa roots and when procuring food, would fill my cheek pouches–extra pockets outside but near my mouth–with alfalfa and dandelion roots and other nearby plant parts and carry them back to my home den area.

By the time winter arrived, I had many lateral tunnels branching off from the main tunnel in most every direction.  We gophers hardly ever went aboveground as there were so many predator dangers there, including cats, dogs, foxes, humans, etc.  However, I kept warm and cozy in my deeper nest area even during below zero temperatures above.  During earlier wintertime when there were several feet of snow on the ground’s surface, I dug only a few additional tunnels because nearer the surface, the ground was frozen and it was downright hard to dig.  Later in the winter when I did begin burrowing more and dug some short lateral tunnels to the snow-covered surface.  Then I went up to the surface and carved out tunnels between the snow and the ground surface into which I could push my excess dirt from my new tunnels.  After the snow melted these snow tunnels, now filled with compacted dirt, appeared as cores of solid soil meandering unevenly across the landscape on top of the ground.

When springtime finally did come, I found out right away that old farmer Bob both detested and hated us pocket gophers—that’s when our infamous “war” began.  I never completely understood why, because I only did what I had seen Mama do and then follow my instincts.   I admit that I probably damaged a few of his ‘ol plants—but, he would never have probably missed them!  Obviously, that was not the mindset of farmer Bob!  First, he tried to drown me when he watered his plants.  He had found a recent surface mound and dug down through the plugged access tunnel until he came to my main burrow.  Soon, a wave of irrigation water rushed towards me.  I can swim when I have to–but it certainly is not my favorite sport!  As the water level in my main tunnel rose rapidly, I first did my best to build a dam to stop the water, then I swam to the part of my burrow which was higher in elevation than the water source and curled up and shivered awhile and slept until I felt better and drier.

A few days later after the water was dried out, I made the mistake or digging new surface lateral tunnels to deposit excess soil into mounds on the surface.  That did it!  Soon I felt the ponderous vibrations of a heavy vehicle overhead.  I heard a shovel, digging into my main tunnel.  Then, I began smelling something yukky–what I later found was automobile exhaust—it made my head ache, so I immediately blocked my side of the tunnel with extra dirt I was pushing.

Farmer Bob must have gotten awfully frustrated, because I kept pushing up excess digging soil, forming mounds on the surface.  One day, I smelled a new scent identified as oats and corn. They were poison, but I didn’t know it.  I probably would have helped myself to them, but an uninvited meadow mouse, accidentally roaming through my burrows, ate all of the grain before I found it and lay dead in the bottom of the burrow.  I began to get the idea that someone up there didn’t like me!

A few days later, I found some strange smelling metal object in my runways. I later found they were called “traps.”  By now, I was becoming very cautious.  As I quietly investigated the strange objects, I heard a “click” as the trap tripped.  It’s jaws grabbed my fur and pinched me real proper, but I was able to free myself.  That really scared me, so I was VERY careful from then on.  Later, I heard the farmer say as he checked his traps, “That pesky gopher is smarter than I am.”  I felt real proud!

From then on, each time I made a mound, even discretely, there would be a metal traps in each direction down the main tunnel.  I was wise to the traps, even though some were set very cleverly.  I would carefully trip each one and push dirt around them so they were very difficult to remove from above.  Every day as Farmer would come to check his traps, I would hear him say something like, “Dang it, foiled again!”

With so many hazards to look out for, I finally told myself, “Guy, it time to be discrete and retreat.”  So, I tunneled under the nearby fence out of the berry patch into the alfalfa field and begin constructing new tunnels.  I noticed that Farmer Bob continued to check his dreaded traps inside the raspberry patch for an entire week—I smirked to myself.

My most dramatic near-encounter with old farmer Bob occurred the very next spring.  I had moved back to the raspberry patch burrows.  By now, I figured that I knew all of his sneaky tricks.  I even carefully hid my mounds of extra dirt among the nearby weeds bordering the field.  I was so wrong!  The third day after I had concealed several mounds, the dreaded metal traps again appeared in my tunnels.  While I was scurrying about trying to cover them up, I came a across a curious circular band of metal with a rock fastened to it.  After I had finished tripping traps and covering them, I noticed the circular object still stuck in my burrow floor.  The very next time I dug a lateral tunnel to get rid of extra dirt, I made sure that I pushed it together with the excess soil to the surface.

Then an extraordinary thing happened:  Sure enough, Farmer found the new mound of soil and was fussing around trying to figure out how to shoot something called “tear gas” (whatever that was) into my tunnels, when he must have spotted the circular metal object. “Gazooks,”  I heard him yell, “Here it is—my grandmother’s diamond wedding ring, the one I lost 50 years ago when I was a little kid picking peas in her garden.  That pesky gopher found it.”  I heard him shout all the way to the house as crashed headlong through row after row of his prized berry bushes.

Well, that’s the end of my story, sort of, that is.  Today I am sitting in a tunnel under my very own berry patch, planted especially for me by my good friend and neighbor, farmer Bob, right next to his own patch.  He even planted some delicious veggies, alfalfa and allowed dandelions to grow alongside to vary my diet.

“You see, I’m what you might call one very lucky GUY!”


Postscript Have you ever seen a live pocket gopher?

There are several species of pocket gophers in the U.S., mostly in the western and southern parts of the country.  Gophers are not popular with many farmers, ranchers and gardeners due to damage wrought on plant and crop roots.  The northern pocket gopher, Thomomys talpoides, inhabits parts of most of the western United States as well as several southwestern Canadian provinces.  There are 58 named subspecies.  Coloration is variable depending on subspecies, from yellowish brown to grayish brown to almost black, and they are normally the size of a large mouse.  Pocket gophers are fossorial (living underground) mammals and have poor eyesight, but their short hairless tails are sensitive to backwards movements in the dark underground tunnels.  Large facial whiskers are sensitive and also assist in movement, even in the darkest of tunnels.  Forefeet have long claws.  These and teeth are used in digging burrows.  Burrows consist of a main tunnel with lateral side branches which originate from the main tunnel.  Gophers are herbivorous and often construct a nest with nearby food caches containing shrubs, grasses, forbs and tree roots.  At rare times they may feed upon aboveground vegetation. Nests may be in burrows from one to four feet below the surface.  An average of three to four young are born from March to June and there is usually only one litters/year, possibly two in the southern portions of their range. The gestation period is about 20 days.  Sexual maturity is reached at one year.  Longevity rarely exceeds five to six years.