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Surge in gopher population in Tam Valley

Marin Independent Journal Editorial
Marin IJ

They may be cute, fuzzy and just 6 to 8 inches long, but gophers are causing major headaches for Marin County officials.

A recent population surge of pocket gophers, or a species of Thomomys as they're known in scientific circles, threatens to damage levees in Santa Venetia and the Tamalpais Valley, officials say.

"They're little excavators," said Bené da Silva, a technician with the Marin County Department of Public Works. "It can have a negative effect on the stability of the levee."

Public works officials aren't certain why pocket gophers have been multiplying so rapidly in Marin for the past few years — or how many of the furry critters now call our county home. However, they do know that the proliferation of burrows, tunnels and mounds near levees could cause erosion and pose a flood risk.

The population has grown so much that setting traps and plugging holes on the levees is no longer sufficient, da Silva said. As a result, the department has launched a community outreach program to educate homeowners about how to manage the creatures on their property.

The county is recommending specific "kill" traps, because relocating the animals — which are classifed as pests in California — isn't possible because it simply transfers the problem to another area, da Silva said. Poison isn't a viable alternative as it can damage the environment and harm other wildlife, he noted.

Gophers mate in the spring and can produce multiple litters, so county officials are trying to control the population now before it explodes.

"Gophers are to the levees as termites are to structures," said Robert Dobrin, president of the Santa Venetia Neighborhood Association. "They live in a different world than we do, underground."

Dobrin and about 35 other residents attended a county workshop on gopher management in Santa Venetia last month, and officials worked out a deal with Marin Ace hardware, where residents got a $5 rebate on traps last month. The county is planning a similar workshop for the Coyote Creek area of Tam Valley, said Jeri Stewart, a public works spokeswoman.

"When you're living on a mountain or you're living near a body of water, erosion is a major concern," she noted.

"This is the first year we had to do a workshop — before, it was controllable," da Silva added. "The population increased so much that we had to come up with a program."

Santa Venetia resident Mary Feller lives on Estancia Way near the levees and said she never noticed large numbers of gophers in the neighborhood until a couple of years ago.

Feller said she set traps in her yard after a gopher destroyed a vine and ate the roots of her apple tree. Residents are primarily concerned about the levees, she noted.

"It's been a scourge and the county's definitely been very aggressive in trying to deal with the problem," Feller said. "Though it's kind of hard for people, it does really have to be dealt with."

For information on trapping gophers or the county's program, send email to da Silva at BDaSilva@marincounty.org.