A mild winter gave burrowing rodents such as pocket gophers and meadow voles a productive early start to what could be a big year for the pests.
By Brad Carlson
Published on May 2, 2018 8:47AM
Photo: Gophers, moles and voles are causing problems for some Idaho and Oregon property owners and farmers. A mild winter has helped their populations increase.
Gophers, moles and voles are causing problems for some Idaho and Oregon property owners and farmers. A mild winter has helped their populations increase.
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The mounds Travis Tyson sees popping up on his family’s 10-acre spread south of Nampa, Idaho, are starting to remind him of the gopher-heavy 2015.
He’s seeing gopher mounds earlier, and more than usual.
“This year, it is starting to feel like the numbers are increasing,” Tyson said.
A mild winter gave burrowing rodents such as pocket gophers and meadow voles a productive early start to what could be a big year for the pests known for harming property, crops and even irrigation infrastructure.
“It’s starting out busy,” Canyon County, Idaho, Pest Superintendent A.J. Mondor said. The office near Middleton is dealing with a lot more gophers, and more voles, compared to a year ago, he said. That reflects the mild winter this year and the heavy, long-lasting winter a year ago, he said.
Canyon County pays a bounty of $1 per tail of a gopher caught in the county. Mondor said totals have been down overall in recent years, which may be correlated with a county program that involves placing owl nesting boxes on participating properties.
Idaho State Department of Agriculture Program Manager Sherman Takatori said he has received reports of some higher vole populations in parts of eastern and southcentral Idaho.
“The (vole) population has a nasty habit of exploding when conditions are favorable” due to their high capacity for reproduction, he said.
Voles can have several generations of young in a year, though in typical years, predation and disease keeps populations below levels that can cause major damage, Takatori said. Population spikes often reflect ideal environmental conditions, or reduced predator populations and disease incidence.
As for gophers, they lack the reproductive capacity of voles, so in general, “unless you neglect to control them, you can keep them down,” he said. For example, many growers of alfalfa and other deep-rooted crops keep gophers in check.
But gopher problems can materialize on ag ground next to public land or another environment where there isn’t much rodent control, Takatori said. “They tend to migrate into fields and be tough to keep up with.”
On their acreage south of Nampa, Tyson and his wife, Kristen, live on a developed acre with their three young children. They leave the other nine acres as natural pasture for goats, chickens, and — soon, they hope — some cattle.
Three years ago, on the heels of a mild winter, they had Idaho Gopher Control treat the acre around their home and barn. The Melba-based business exterminates burrowing rodents via carbon monoxide fumigation. Travis Tyson said the gopher population immediately subsided, and the animals never came back in substantial numbers.
But if he continues to see mounds, he might call again.
“I have a choice,” Tyson said. “I could go out by myself with old-fashioned, wood gopher traps, or — if I get behind — I would possibly reach back out to Idaho Gopher Control.”
Keeping up with rodents is key to controlling them, said Michael Williams, who is in charge of receiving products at the D&B Supply Store on Overland Road in west central Boise. The store’s customers include many rural property owners.
“We’re getting a lot of requests for rodent control, for sure,” he said. One popular request is for a product designed to kill small rodents without attracting or harming house pets.
Voles and mice likely have been more prolific thanks to the warmer winter, Williams said.
D&B customers are reporting voles showing up in populated areas, he said.
“They are nasty little things in the yards,” Williams said. “You can bait them or snap-trap them, but it’s just a matter of getting after them when you see them.”
On agriculture land and rural residential properties in southwest Idaho and part of eastern Oregon, rodent-control specialist Rod Zehr sees a 25 to 30 percent increase from a year ago in gophers, and a corresponding increase in time spent at each client’s property. He also is seeing some ground squirrels, including on desert-adjacent properties where they haven’t been reported previously.
Gophers are seen more on alfalfa or waste ground than on onion or row-crop fields that farmers work more frequently, he said.
Increasingly popular pivot irrigation systems provide gophers with good nutrition and breeding conditions, and allow them to be more broadly distributed in fields compared to gravity systems, Zehr said.
Brisk construction in the greater Boise area is one factor boosting demand at Idaho Gopher Control, said Erin Turpin, who owns the business with her husband, John Turpin.
“Not necessarily weather-related, there is so much construction,” Erin Turpin said. “Construction has been pushing gophers and voles into the suburbs from the fields, so that has been a huge impact.”
And after a building or house is completed, animals can move from that former habitat to parks, sports fields and path systems often completed as part of a larger development, she said.
While rodent displacement isn’t necessarily tied to numerical changes in the population, the company’s work on agricultural and other rural properties has brought signs gophers and voles got off to a strong start this year, Turpin said.
Gophers and voles don’t hibernate, and “the mild weather did not slow them down (reproductively) as much as the typical Treasure Valley winter,” she said April 30. “We started seeing the first litters of gophers and voles in late January and early February, and typically we don’t see the first litters until the end of February or early March. And we are already starting to see the second cycle of litters happen.”
Agricultural crops appear to be growing at a healthy pace, which figures to provide more food and good breeding prospects for gophers and voles, Turpin said.
Idaho Gopher Control business volume through April 30 approached volume for all of last year, she said. She expects to start getting extermination requests related to ground squirrels, which hibernate, as May unfolds and the weather moves from warm to hot.
Meanwhile, Tyson will keep monitoring his property, and keeping an eye on neighboring properties, for signs of gophers.
He won’t push his neighbors too hard when it comes to rodent control, though he will be willing to help them.
“We’re all just trying to live the country lifestyle,” Tyson said.