“Honey, the backyard looks like a battlefield after a shelling,” I told Patrick. “Holes and piles of loose dirt everywhere.”
“Gophers,” he moaned, looking worriedly at the garden.
Brandon at Gopher Patrol (888-466-4674; gopherpatrol.com) told me — surprise! — “We specialize in gophers. They’re 80 to 90 percent of our business. We focus on gophers as an agricultural pest, since a gopher’s diet consists of the roots of bushes, plants, and trees.
“We bait and trap,” continued Brandon. “We use a restricted bait. The stuff you get at Home Depot is between 0.1 and 0.25 percent strychnine. What we use is 1.8 percent. You need special licensing and technique to use it. The technician uses a gopher probe to go deep into the gopher’s tunnel. The bait acts very quickly, so the gophers always die underground. There is a concern with a dog eating a dead gopher and being poisoned, but the likelihood of that happening is small.”
Still, he said, “If a customer is not comfortable with poison, we offer trapping. The number of traps set depends on the problem. It could be anywhere from 3 to 20. Gophers can create elaborate tunnel systems in a short time.”
Prices, said Brandon, “depend on size and landscape,” but he gave me an average. “For a normal-sized front and back yard, it’s $195 to $295. Trapping is more labor intensive; there’s a $225 minimum for that.” Most treatments consist of two visits about one week apart and normally come with a 30-day guarantee, starting after the second visit. If you see activity during that time, Gopher Patrol will come back without an additional charge.
“It’s a continuous problem,” warned Mike Lawson, owner of La Jolla Termite and Pest Control (888-454-4315; lajollatermite.com). “With some properties, we can get rid of gophers easily. With others, we can’t — due to canyons or landscaping or your neighbors not doing anything about their gophers. They really can be a community problem. We can come out and treat your house, but the gophers may just go next door. Or they may be coming from next door. And a gopher will take up residence in an existing burrow. So the problem can be ongoing.”
Lawson said that, like most pest-control operators, he used “gopher-getter bait” — the kind that doesn’t require a special license. “We place it down in the tunnels. Usually the gopher expires in the tunnel, but sometimes they come out, looking for water, and can die anywhere.”
Lawson said it was difficult to estimate cost prior to visiting a property. “It depends on the landscape and the acreage,” he said. “But the real key is maintenance. Once you get treated, you want to get on monthly maintenance, and the normal fee for that starts at $30 a month.”
Kayla at Antac Pest Control in Kearny Mesa (877-268-2262; antacpest.com) said her company also uses a bait method. “We’ve never had a problem with a pet getting into the bait,” she noted. The base charge is $155. “That covers the first two tunnels. It’s $10 more for each tunnel thereafter. We need to treat all the active tunnels. Gophers aren’t social creatures. They don’t like sharing. You might see five to ten holes in your yard from just one gopher. But if you have a large yard, you could have a big problem, with multiple gophers.” After the initial baiting, Antac returns to check for additional activity. “Then we give the customer a quote for maintenance.”
Robert Anderson at Speedy Animal Control (619-370-2761; speedyanimalcontrol.com) told me, “We bait and trap. But we prefer to trap, especially if you have fruit trees or a vegetable garden. For trapping, we use a galvanized steel-scissor trap. Generally, when you find one gopher mound, you can expect there to be a gopher every six feet. We find the tunnel using a gopher probe and put in a trap for every entry point.” Prices for both baiting and trapping start at $275.
Sometimes Anderson will use a method he calls gopher blasting. “We’ll do this when there’s a large area with gopher problems, but we can’t use bait — someplace like an orchard. We use a mixture of propane and oxygen and ignite it. The tunnels collapse, and all the gophers within are killed.”