By Nick Dunn
Growing up in rural Alberta, one thing kids like to do with their free time is shoot gophers. As kids, we never thought of the impact these rodents would have on our family or friends’ land. We were having fun. Little did we know, we were helping them out! Gopher populations have been an ongoing problem and one control method remaining in place is gunpowder.
An important step to controlling Richardson’s ground squirrels (RGS) is to know their life cycle and behaviour. With spring still far away but fast approaching, now is the time to start gathering rodenticide and create a plan to battle these rodents. Males will typically start to emerge in mid-February, two weeks before the adult females. Females will start feeding two weeks after their emergence, which would be the most effective time to start management practices (mid-March).
In March 2022, Health Canada ended the sales of 2% Liquid Strychnine in Alberta and following in March 2023, Strychnine possession and use will be prohibited. Depending on your situation, you may have relied on Strychnine to control gophers due to its high efficacy and because it’s user friendly. Health Canada recognized issues with Strychnine and the unfortunate fact that it impacted non-target wildlife, which is why they have taken this tool out of the toolbox. Flagstaff County stopped supplying Strychnine in March 2022.
So, what is left in the toolbox? There are still many other means to control gophers in Alberta. Some methods are more laborious than others, including traps that we sell at the County, and domestic and commercial baits and poisons such as Rozol, Ground Force, ZP Rodent Bait, and Gardex Rodent Bait Blocks. Another great but costly domestic option is the Giant Destroyer. Depending on the infestation, these methods might be impractical or not economically feasible.
For larger infestations, some common control methods are fumigants. Two types include phostoxin tablets (aluminum phosphide) and anhydrous ammonia. Phostoxin tablets require a Farmer Pesticide Certificate with a rodenticide endorsement in order to purchase and use. This method is economically feasible and is becoming more popular with the recent registration changes with Strychnine. Flagstaff County will be hosting a Farmer Pesticide Course in February and March. The February course is full but if you would like to attend in March, please contact me at 780-390-0342 and I will get you on the list for March or future courses. If you’re already certified and are trying to procure this product, Kneehill Soils in Three Hills has a good supply. Anhydrous ammonia has been used for many years and is very effective and feasible. However, it does come with some challenges, including certification of the applicator and handling equipment (gophinator). If you are interested in this form of control, you can talk to your local retailer for training and where to purchase the equipment and anhydrous.
Aside from fumigants, another option would be Rocon Mustard Seed Foam, which is an asphyxiant. This method is laborious but has the benefit of being economically feasible and effective. I would also argue that this form of control would be the safest of any rodenticide; it’s a food-grade foam with the ability to be used from playgrounds to pastures. The Flagstaff County Agricultural Service Board has agreed to supply mustard seed foam and kits to County landowners at cost recovery. Flagstaff County is committed to continuing to help producers get the required education to control pests on their own land.
Nick Dunn is Flagstaff County’s Agricultural Fieldman. He can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at: 780-384-4138.