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'A safety concern': Communities in Manitoba dealing with the explosive growth of gophers

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It’s like a scene from the 1980 film "Caddyshack."

Gophers are digging deep through Manitoba and starting to cause problems in some communities.

In Winnipeg, the critters, also known as Richardson ground squirrels, have tunnelled through parts of The Forks and Assiniboine Park.

“We thought the first residents at The Forks would be in the Railside buildings across the street here,” said Zach Peters, communications and marketing manager with The Forks. “But I guess the first residents are these ground squirrels.”

Peters said the gophers are starting to leave hazardous holes in the park.

“We obviously recognize that they're here, they're present,” he said. “But, obviously, we also want to acknowledge that there could be a safety concern with the holes they create, tripping hazards, things of that nature."

A large gopher hole at Assiniboine Park is pictured on June 19, 2024. (Daniel Halmarson/CTV News Winnipeg)

Lincoln Poulin, president of Poulin’s Pest Control, said the weather in the last couple of years is to blame for the increase in gophers.

“The last couple of years are kind of ideal,” he said. “Mild winters and then heavy snowpack winters, insulation and the young. It's not killing off the gophers.”

Poulin added that Richardson ground squirrel populations are huge in rural areas like Brandon and Selkirk.

"They’re the ones that burrow into the ground and then run all over in open fields, and the infestation is actually going to continue to get worse,” he said.

'Let nature take its course': expert says population boom is part of normal cycle

The gopher boom is not a surprise to James Hare, professor emeritus in the University of Manitoba's department of biological sciences.

He's been studying the creatures for more than 30 years, and said what is happening now is normal.

"It's usually toward the end of May into early June you'll see all of the juvenile start to emerge from the natal burrows," he said. "Females can have up to 14 young and litter, so tons of them emerge at the same time." 

A trio of gophers is shown frolicking at The Forks on June 19, 2024. (Daniel Halmarson/CTV News Winnipeg)

While the spike may be alarming, he said 90 per cent of these critters won't make it through the summer – they'll die or fall prey to predators.

"I would let nature take its course," Hare said. "The predators are at work thinning the numbers down as we speak."

Don't shoot the gophers, Brandon police remind residents

Still, the number of gophers has prompted Brandon police to remind people they can’t shoot gophers within city limits.

“It does seem to be that we're seeing more infestations in more of our parks throughout the city and we're getting more calls regarding them this year," said Perry Roque, director of parks and recreation with the City of Brandon.

Roque said they’re working with Poulin’s Pest Control to help control the population.

"We have to go with a product called Giant Destroyers,” Poulin said. “It's a smoke euthanization. We put a smoke bomb down into the gopher hole and kills through suffocation; it’s very labour intensive."

Peters said they’re working with Parks Canada on a population control solution.

"It’s simply the safety of the holes,” he said. “We do want people to be able to play in these fields and actively use them. And so making sure that we can have that coexisting relationship with the Richardson ground squirrels.”

Poulin said if you see gopher holes in your yard, you should take care of them quickly, as the greater the number of holes means more gophers.

While they can cause issues – like tripping hazards or undermining buildings – Hare said control efforts may not be the best way to deal with the gophers.

He said adult females go into hibernation around this time and won't be seen for the rest of the year.

"Your control efforts aren't going to do a thing. They are in their hibernacula, isolated from others," he said, adding most control methods won’t reach them.

If control is needed, Hare said it must be done humanely. But there are other options to make your yard seem less appealing to gophers.

"Let the grass grow high. Let there be visual obstructions. You tend not to see (gophers) occupying areas where they can't detect threats coming at them."

-with files from CTV's Danton Unger

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