Gophers, fire ants, and poison ivy, Part 1

Tammy Brown

Back in January, I imagined a peaceful coexistence with the gophers.  After all, they were here at Little Piney first, they were cute in a goofy, near-sighted way, and Carl (the previous owner) told me you really couldn’t win, anyway.  Now it’s April, and the little tunnelers have run amok.  Hills of dirt cover grass and wildflowers.  Mounds and valleys create treacherous footing in the hay field.  Gopher tunnels are collapsing under the driveway making holes and bumps.   Little Piney sits atop an underground highway system in a gopher metropolis.

Enemy #2, the fire ants, seem to follow the trail of the gophers making it difficult to distinguish between gopher and ant mound.  If we think it’s a gopher mound we kick it to be sure.  Sometimes fire ants pour out of the most gopher-looking mounds. Fire ants–what survivors they are!  Everyday new mounds of these vicious tiny swarmers pop up near the mounds I’ve already treated.  Everyday the risk seems greater of a total takeover of the fields.  I buy Amdro every week.

The most painful invader of the moment, however, is definitely the poison ivy.  Three weeks after I brushed against a vine on a tree where I planned to strap a game camera, the red bumps and streaks continue to itch and spread.  Even after a poison ivy vine is dead, the oil can transfer to skin for three years.  If it’s burned, it can be inhaled and cause a serious reaction.  Best to kill them as they pop up tender and green and almost unnoticeable–sneaky purveyors of poison and misery!

So with a sense of urgency and the killer instinct of a mama bear, tomorrow I  launch a triple offensive.  I’ll load my wagon with a gopher probe, Amdro, and Round-up and search for the offenders.  I’ll find the gopher dens and begin their destruction.  I’ll shake out another whole bottle of Amdro on ant mountains.   I’ll don my disposable hazmat suit, shoe covers and gloves from Home Depot and spray the new tender poison ivy plants as well as the big vine on the tree and figure out later what to do with the dead ones.

Reflection from from June 2020

I’m laughing at my misguided enthusiasm! I’ve definitely learned to live in peace with all the critters at Little Piney with a few exceptions for health risks (rodents and biting insects in the house) and safety (would have to remove a poisonous snake by the house. Gophers are not dangerous, and I can’t control them in a humane, sustainable way. Periodic flooding reduces the population effectively. Poison ivy can be managed in small areas, and can be avoided. I keep non-toxic insect repellant by the door to protect me from chiggers. Fire ants are around but they don’t take over. We hit the mounds with Amdro a few times every summer to help with that. . There is a balance between accepting what can’t be controlled and tending to Little Piney in way that makes it enjoyable and livable. I find peace in accepting all of nature and finding ways to adapt to the challenging aspects. I also find satisfaction in doing what I can to manage problems that threaten the ecology of Little Piney such as removing down invasive trees and plants like chinaberry and Johnson grass.

We are living with much bigger challenges right now, specifically Corona virus and racial injustice exemplified in the brutal murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. We are all looking for a balance. For me, Corona virus is like fire ants. The virus is an imported nuisance that can’t be eliminated so we have to manage as best we can in order to remain safe and healthy. Racial injustice is like a rattlesnake on the front porch. It cannot be accepted. We have to address that problem right now. I pray for our country with all of its grieving hearts that we may find fortitude, peace, solidarity, and wisdom as we struggle.


  1. I’m so glad you are enjoying your new nature sanctuary. I know the critters are a handful to deal with and it’s a never ending battle, but well worth it in the end. I will ask Carl about the critter sightings as soon as he comes in from fishing and we’ll get back to you. Enjoy it, I know we did.

  2. Thanks Sherry! I saw the gator critter again today! Any tips for poison ivy control are very welcome!

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