Rural municipalities say drought, warm winters leading to destructive resurgence of gophers in southwest Sask.

·2 min read
The Rural Municipality of Maple Creek in southwest Saskatchewan says Richardson's ground squirrels, also known as gophers, are making their way into towns and getting into residents' lawns and gardens. (Monty Kruger/CBC - image credit)
The Rural Municipality of Maple Creek in southwest Saskatchewan says Richardson's ground squirrels, also known as gophers, are making their way into towns and getting into residents' lawns and gardens. (Monty Kruger/CBC - image credit)

Rural municipalities in Saskatchewan's southwest say they are being overrun by Richardson's ground squirrels, also known as gophers — and they worry about next year when they will no longer be allowed to use their go-to gopher control product.

A federal ban on using strychnine to control gophers takes effect next March. Farmers could no longer buy strychnine for that purpose as of this past March.

Ray Orb, the president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM), said RMs are "really upset about that."

"We're seeing a really large resurgence of the Richardson ground squirrel," he said. "And we don't have the the proper chemicals to take control of them."

Christine Hoffman, the chief administrative officer for the RM of Maple Creek, told CBC's The Afternoon Edition host Garth Materie that gophers have caused "severe" loss and damage on agricultural land throughout the southwest.

Hoffman said they are eating crops and digging holes, leading to lost product and livestock, as well as damaged equipment.

She said the holes are also attracting other predators, such as badgers, which are creating even larger holes.

"This spring, some of our landowners had concerns where through their calving season, their newborn calves were falling into these holes," she said. "They were actually losing livestock numbers that way."

She said the gophers have spread into towns and are getting into residents' gardens and lawns.

Hoffman said coyotes won't solve the problem, either.

"It is so beyond that," she said. "If you could see our fields, you'd understand what I'd be talking about.

"I mean, it's hard to believe until you see it."

LISTEN | Christine Hoffman spoke with Afternoon Edition host Garth Materie:

Hoffman said ag experts have told her the gophers are thriving in drought conditions and warmer winters.

She said even with the use of strychnine, it's already very labour-intensive for farmers to try to control gopher populations.

"This is something that is an ongoing thing. It's not something that you go out into your field and you apply it once and it's all done and the problem is over," she said.

"The gopher is a relentless little animal and they require you to stay on top of that."

Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency has said an evaluation of scientific information confirms using strychnine to control gophers presents risks to other animals, including at-risk species such as the swift fox and burrowing owl.