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Issue: January 16

Gophers can be trapped, but releasing them elsewhere can be cruel

Q. I have a question about how to get rid of burrowing rodents in my yard. I think they are gophers, not prairie dogs. I live on the west side of Albuquerque. My house backs up to an arroyo. I have a small lawn in the backyard that has been invaded by some sort of burrowing varmint. I would prefer not to murder these creatures in cold blood, but I am daily becoming less and less conscious stricken about sending them to rodent heaven. What are my choices for effective methods of getting rid of these destructive critters once and for all?

A. Gophers are a common problem in New Mexico. Prairie dogs and ground squirrels can also cause landscape problems, but they make themselves more evident by being seen above ground and leaving obvious tunnel entrances. The gophers' most obvious sign is mounds of soil scattered in a landscape and dying plants or plants that vanished when pulled down into the gopher tunnel. Their tunnel entrance is not often seen.

Many people do not want to kill the gophers, but other management strategies are equally cruel to either the gopher or your neighbors. It is hard to chase them out of your landscape, and if you succeed they will only create problems for your neighbors. Live-trapping and releasing them commonly results in their being killed by coyotes or other large predators. Moving them to a new, unfamiliar location reduces their chance of survival greatly and if they survive, just creates problems in a new location.

In residential landscapes, trapping is the most effective and safe (for pets and children) method of control. While there are fumigants and toxicants available for managing gophers, these can create hazards for children and pets. Some are available only to licensed pesticide applicators and cannot be bought by homeowners. There are several types of traps available to homeowners at feed stores and some hardware stores. Some traps may be used in the short tunnel through which gophers push soil to the surface, but since they are pushing soil through these tunnels, you may only catch soil and not the gopher. Trap should be placed in the "main tunnel" which is often 6 - 12 inches deep and about 12 - 18 inches from the mound of soil. Two traps placed according to the specific traps instructions, one facing each way in the main tunnel can be a very effective method of trapping gophers. However, it is important to choose a main tunnel that is currently being used by the gopher. Such a tunnel is found near fresh surface soil mounds. If children are present, keep them away from the trap while it is active. It will be underground and covered, so this should not be a major problem.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at http://www.cahe.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h.

Send your gardening questions to:

Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Cooperative Extension Service
9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.