The Quiet, Solitary Pocket Gopher
By Linda Langelo, CSU Horticulture Program Associate
According to G.W. Witmer and R.M. Engeman of the USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, pocket gophers are efficient "digging machines". They spend the majority of their lives as a subterranean rodent quietly living its life in a closed burrow system until mating season, rearing their young or biting into buried cables while seeking roots as their main food source. Without communication cables or electrical cables where would be? In the same silence that pocket gophers enjoy before they conflicted with our world. Since we live among lots of wildlife, it helps to be aware of the wildlife around us and their life cycles.
The damage a pocket gopher can do extends way beyond communication or electrical cables as if that were not enough. Here is a brief list of some of the types of damage they can do:
- Pocket gophers are one of the most serious pests and threat to reforestation in North America according to Engeman and Witmer (2000).
- In rangeland, their preferred diet is annual forbs or wildflowers and annual grasses.
- Root gnawing and basal girdling according to Sullivan and Hogue (1987) damage fruit trees such as apple, cherry, and pear trees in the Pacific Northwest.
- In Nebraska yields declined in alfalfa as an economic loss of around $10 million per year. Other crops that suffered economic loss were alfalfa hay, late successional perennial grasses and clovers.
- Increases in invasive plant establishment and dispersal.
Photo Credit: Orlando Pest Control Solutions
I am sure that before our world became so civilized, populated and with so much dependence on technology the pocket gopher still continued to do damage, but was not so intrusive. There are solutions to lessening the conflict of pocket gophers in our world. One of those is burying those communication and electrical cables deeper than a foot since most of the damage occurs 10-30 centimeters within the rooting zone. Their tunnels can cause irrigation loss and erosion according to UC Davis.
Other solutions for managing pocket gophers as follows:
- use less palatable species of plants
- crop rotation
- alteration of planting and harvesting dates
- flood irrigation
- using barriers made of small mesh wire or plastic tubes for trees
- selective removal of forbs/flowers with herbicide 2,4-D has reduced gopher densities
- encouragement of natural predation
According to UC Davis, the biological options of natural predators are as follows:
- Owls -depends on environmental sites
To leave you on a positive note with pocket gophers; here are some good facts from outwitcritters.com:
- Pocket gophers bring two and a quarter tons of soil to the surface each year.
- Some species are excellent swimmers.
- The Plains Pocket Gopher is agile. (Just a side note: And maybe that is how they got into the tunnel that houses our phone and internet which has dropped our service in Sedgwick and Phillips County over the last 2 weeks.)