Pocket gophers construct burrows under the ground using their strong forelegs, enlarged claws and even their teeth. Their vision is poor because of their habitat as is their hearing. When the gopher digs, it kicks the dirt behind it with its hind feet. When a lot of loose dirt has accumulated, it turns around and pushes the dirt to the surface using its forepaws and face. The resulting mounds are an indication of their presence in your yard.
Gophers feed on the underground portions of plants, but will occasionally come to the surface and pull green vegetation underground. They live alone in their tunnel system, but males will enter female tunnels during mating season, usually early in the year. Female gophers will have one to seven young at a time. The baby gophers will disperse on the ground when they are mature enough to leave their mother and often fall victim to predators at this time. They usually have only one litter per year.
Actually, they are very beneficial animals. A single gopher can move approximately a ton of soil to the surface every year. Their tunnels are constructed and then fill up with dirt as they are abandoned. The old tunnels contain the nests, waste material and partially filled pantries well below the surface where they become important as fertilizer. Soil that has been compacted by cattle trampling, grazing and machinery is benefited by the tunneling process of gophers. In the mountains, snow and rainfall are temporarily held in gopher burrows instead of running across the surface causing soil erosion. The mounds the gophers make also bury vegetation deeper, thus increasing soil quality over time. Additionally, fresh soil in the mounds provides a fresh seeding area for new plants, which may increase the variety of plants on a site. Gophers are also in the food chain and are fed upon by large birds, other mammals and snakes. Other animals such as lizards and toads take refuge in the cool, moist burrows.
As much as I am trying to make the case that gophers have a place in our area, there are times when we have to control them. Poisons are available but I never recommend them. Most of the gopher baits contain strychnine, diphacinone, chlorophacinone, or zinc phosphide. None of these rodenticides are very pleasant and accidents can result with other animals digging them up. These products shouldn’t even be allowed to be sold in stores. A fumigant, aluminum phosphide, is sometimes used to control gophers but it isn’t recommended. Two children were killed by it in Utah when an exterminator used aluminum phosphide in their yard to kill voles.
There are traps available that can be placed in the burrows, but they are not easy to use and have only limited success. I have found that the best method of gopher control is simply asking them to move. You can do this by pouring a foul smelling liquid into their tunnel system. Fish oil emulsion works well and castor oil is also effective. Since gophers generally live alone, once they move, they are not likely to return unless they are forced to move again, so a repellant can be very effective.
When using a repellant, you will have to probe the dirt to find their tunnels. Generally a tunnel will run straight between two mounds and they are normally about 18” below the surface. You can use a metal rod or even a pool cue to probe the dirt. Once you hit the tunnel, the probe will fall through. Then take a long-stem funnel such as used to put oil in cars and place it in the hole created by the probe. Pour the repellant into the funnel and move on to the next tunnel. You can use the same method if you have moles in your yard. There isn’t any reason to kill them. Gophers, like all organisms, are just trying to make a living