Archive for June 16th, 2008

Gophers, Prairie Dogs and Poison

June 16, 2008

I have never liked the use of poison to control unpopular animal populations, even as a youngster on our farm in Southern Saskatchewan. I hated to see our neighbour across the road out dropping poison into gopher holes (some of it on our property) and I never liked the cyanide guns that government agents used to decimate coyote populations in those days.

At the time it was more of a gut reaction although maybe even then I understood how indiscriminate the results of the poisoning was. The cyanide guns killed a lot of farm dogs along with the coyotes they targeted. The gopher poison killed a lot of other unintended birds and animals.

For a long time now poison has not been allowed in most jurisdictions as a method to control these populations. But the out-of-control growth of gophers in SW Saskatchewan and Prairie Dogs in the U.S. West has changed that dynamic. This year, in answer to local demands, the federal government authorized the use of strychnine by Saskatchewan and Alberta landowners to help solve their problem.

I find it hard to fault the ranchers and farmers who have been impacted by these animals for calling for more drastic measures to reduce their populations. There has been a huge economic cost for them, with crop damage and even equipment damage due to the rodent’s burrowing holes, exacerbated by the influx of badgers making even bigger holes in the process of digging out their gopher prey.

The ranchers/farmers in SW Saskatchewan have been very good about welcoming shooters onto their land in an attempt to reduce the populations in that manner. And although there have been a large number of shooters that have come into the area and killed a lot of gophers their efforts apparently did not make a serious dent in the populations.

One of the concerns with poison is the incidental kills and I noted that there were Burrowing Owls in the area, which would be particularly vulnerable to the poison regime.

I asked one of the ranchers in SW Saskatchewan about that and he said that he had seen nothing in that regard so far. Mind you this particular fellow seemed to be pretty careful about the placement of his poison, making sure it was placed well down the hole and getting rid of any poison-killed gophers that he found. I’m not sure that everyone placing their poison will be that conscientious.

An indication of how effective poison control can be comes from a conversation I had with a fellow in Weyburn who has gone down to North Dakota for the past few years to shoot Prairie Dogs. When they were leaving the ranch they shot on last year the rancher told them he had a crew coming in to apply poison on his lands. In the past week the rancher advised that it was pointless to come down this spring, as the poison applied appears to have killed off 90-95 percent of the dogs on his property.

It remains to be seen if the control program is as successful for the farmers and ranchers in Saskatchewan .

On a cynical note, a couple of years ago when the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation put together a shooting derby to help in reducing the gopher numbers there was a great amount of hoopla in the media, instigated by animal rights groups, decrying how inhumane it all was. However there doesn’t appear to be much caterwauling and hand wringing over the fact that strychnine is now being used to kill off large numbers of the animals. So obviously the concern wasn’t for the gophers per se; it was all about an agenda against guns, shooting and hunting.


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