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Plains Pocket Gopher Management in Colorado

Although four species of pocket gophers are found throughout Colorado, the primary species of concern in the Colorado Springs and Pueblo areas is the plains pocket gopher.  Thriving in sandy and silt soil types, plains pocket gophers are light to dark brown in color on the upper portions of their bodies with buff colored underbellies.  Their loose skin and short dense hair allow for forward and backward movement within their burrow systems.  Pocket gophers appear to lack a neck and have a compact body with a short snout and wide flat head.  Front legs are strong and have highly distinguishable claws designed for digging and managing dirt within their burrow systems.  Their incisors are predominant and yellow in color.  External cheek pouches like those of a hamster are used for transporting food.  Male pocket gophers are larger in size than females, but otherwise share a majority of their characteristics.

Rarely seen above the surface, plains pocket gophers spend a vast majority of their life below ground level.  Solitary with only the exception of breeding season and rearing of young, plains pocket gophers raise a single litter of up to six young which are usually born in the spring and weaned by June each year. Plains pocket gophers do not hibernate and will therefore remain active year round.  Although some consider their burrowing activities to be beneficial to the surrounding soils due to irrigation and fertilization, a vast majority of the time pocket gophers are considered to be a nuisance.  Damaging trees, shrubs, grasses and other plants by feeding on their roots, pocket gophers also have the potential to severely damage alfalfa crops.  Pocket gopher burrows are often distinguished by the fan shaped mounds where dirt from the burrow system is excavated.  Burrow mounds are then plugged up to prevent predator entry.  Despite what many may think pocket gophers do not kick dirt out of their burrows using their hind legs.  Instead, they use their front legs, head and chest in a pushing motion to shove excavated dirt out of the burrow.

Reduction of pocket gopher damage is more often than not achieved by trapping or application of toxicants.  Exclusion methods are rarely practical due to their expense and time consuming nature.  Trapping occurs within the burrow systems.  Body-gripping traps are the most common type of pocket gopher trap.  Traps are placed below ground in carefully exposed burrow tunnels.  Traps should be checked frequently and relocated if unsuccessful.  Determination of fresh mounds will often aide in trapping success.  Toxicants can be applied into the burrow system by hand excavating to expose tunnels within the system or through the use of a specialized probe tool designed to distribute baits directly into the system.  In any of the above cases, knowledge on where to locate tunnels surrounding burrow mounds is extremely
important and beneficial to the eradication process.  Raking mounds down flat with the surrounding soil allows for the monitoring of pocket gopher activity and location of the freshest mounds.