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The Eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) is an abundant and widely recognized mammal in the southern Appalachian forest. Its extensive burrow systems play an integral role in soil aeration, water infiltration, and reducing soil bulk density. Its abundant numbers make it a prime subject for ecological observation and monitoring changes in forest communities. They are a major food source for and can be managed as the prey base for the large carnivores of the forest, for example, the coyote, foxes, bears, large snakes, and hawks. They are very adaptable and can be expected in any area where adequate food and some cover is available - wooded, partially wooded, or edge habitats, as well as in landscaped habitats such as gardens, flower plantings, and cemeteries. The promiscuous breeding habits that yield such favorable densities allow them to thrive with little or no management. If left alone, populations seem to remain relatively stable. However, their feeding habits can cause economic damage to gardens, nurseries, or agricultural fields. It is important that the wildlife or forest manager consider both their positive and negative effects when formulating management objectives and selecting strategies for net gains.
Managing for Food Supplies
Managing Faunal Space
They are often seen near sheltered areas such as rotten logs, large rocks, or stumps that provide adequate conditions for burrowing. These burrows are sometimes found short distances from grain fields and forest edges.
If the canopy is opened and a dense understory develops, large populations of chipmunks should not be expected until the canopy closes and the understory becomes more open. Slashing shrub and lower canopy growth in small forested areas will open the forest floor for chipmunks and provide suitable places for burrow entrances if the slash is allowed to remain. Felled logs also provide adequate foraging and predator escape runways.
One observer believes high chipmunk populations affect abundance of ground-nesting songbirds.
Stabilize or reduce the white-tailed deer population by hunting to prevent overgrazing damage to chipmunk plant foods.
Minimize predation on emerging young from May through July and from September through November by trapping and removing longtail weasels, bobcats, gray foxes, red foxes, feral dogs, and feral cats. Natural predation does not have a major effect on chipmunk except in some unnatural situations. Pet house cats should be kept inside at all times, and any feral cat problems should be reported to the proper authorities. Other predators on chipmunks include: long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata), red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), Northern harrier (Circus cyaneus), and bobcat (Felis rufous).
Eastern chipmunks are best seen between May and October due to spring and fall breeding. Average densities are 2 to 4 per acre, and approximated home range sizes are:
Increase observations at established feeding stations.
Survey interested publics to determine explicit benefits desired from chipmunk management.
Sponsor local wildlife organization's presentation of a slide program on "chipmunk-watching." Announce public invitation on radio and in newspaper.
Always be cautious with management actions near agricultural areas. Alternative techniques such as trapping and relocating, or repellents, can be used effectively if crop and garden damage become problems.
Monitoring and Feedback
Use some means to gauge whether management actions are achieving the desired effects. One possible way to do this is to use an index to size of the chipmunk population. A walk can be taken at the same time each day, over the same area or areas for a large management unit, and the number of chipmunks seen each day can be recorded. This index would likely increase if beneficial management actions are taken or decrease if management practices remove important valuable food sources of good burrowing sites. Population densities of from 3 per acre to as high as 30 per acre have been found. If the population on your management area drops unexpectedly or does not respond to the management techniques suggested, it is recommended that you contact a qualified wildlife biologist.
The assistance of Matthew McKercher (1992), Liz Pasnak (1992), Ken Cubero (1992), Mark Dieter (1996). The Internet contains several sites devoted to chipmunks.
Submitted by Robert H. Giles, Jr.
A contribution from a project funded in part by US Forest Service, Dr. Mike Rauscher, the Southern Appalachian Forest Hypertext Enclclopedia project, 2002
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Last revision July 10, 2002.