Gopher Wars

valley pocket gopher

valley pocket gopher

A 60-year-old book on gardening recommended this for gopher control: ”Flood the burrow with a garden hose and watch for the emergence of the animal, which is killed with a shovel, stick or other weapon.”
Gophers do more than nibble plant roots and make unsightly mounds, which cause dead spots in lawns. A gopher may gnaw through the roots of a young tree so that it falls over, or girdle a tree trunk by chewing its bark.
One thing is certain: Suburban sprawl is inimical to gophers, especially where there is lots of concrete and asphalt with small yards. You are less likely to encounter a gopher in Van Nuys or Sherman Oaks than in Calabasas or Canyon Country. Wherever farmland and open spaces are turned into malls and housing developments, gophers tend to disappear.
Yet, if you live next to a large unkempt field or canyon, you probably will be visited by gophers on a regular basis, even if your own garden is tiny.
This is the time of year when a few more gophers than usual are out and about. Gophers generally mate and give birth between January and April. They usually have a single annual litter, which numbers about five offspring. The rest of the year, they are solitary, fiercely territorial creatures.
Just because there are abundant gopher mounds in an area doesn’t mean you have an army of gophers to contend with. One gopher probably will be the sole occupant of all the burrows under a 1,000-square-foot lawn or garden.
There are a number of tried-and-true eradication techniques – including the hose and shovel method mentioned at the top of this column. But the only way of knowing for a fact that you have gotten the beast is if you see him lying dead in front of you – which is why some gopher hunters favor trapping.
Poison bait also is popular, although its consumption by other animals will prove fatal to them as well. Sulphur smoke bombs also are available.
Should you decide on traps or bait, you will be obliged to learn the art of locating the main gopher run, which is where the critter invariably is found. The telltale mound you see on the surface is at the end of a lateral run, created for the purpose of routing soil out of the burrow currently being excavated. At the base of this mound is a plug or circular depression, which frequently is visible. Take a stick or metal rod and probe eight to 10 inches out from the plug side of the mound. When the rod finds the burrow, it will sink several inches deeper into the soil.
You will want to funnel bait through the opening you have made or widen it and place two traps (of the Macabee brand) in the main run in opposite directions. Attach string between traps and stakes pounded into the ground above; gophers have been known to pull traps into their burrows, from which they cannot be retrieved. After placing bait or traps, cover the opening with a stone and sift soil around it to prevent light from entering the burrow. When a gopher sees light, he pushes soil toward the trap, springing it shut.
Certain animals may keep gophers under control. An especially feisty cat is supposed to be effective, as is – wouldn’t you know it? – a gopher snake.

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