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‘A safety concern’: Communities in Manitoba dealing with the explosive growth of gophers

It’s like a scene from the 1980 film “Caddyshack.”

Gophers are digging deep through Manitoba and starting to cause problems in some communities.

In Winnipeg, the critters, also known as Richardson ground squirrels, have tunneled through parts of The Forks and Assiniboine Park.

“We thought the first residents at The Forks would be in the Railside buildings across the street here,” said Zach Peters, communications and marketing manager with The Forks. “But I guess the first residents are these ground squirrels.”

Peters said the gophers are starting to leave hazardous holes in the park.

“We obviously recognize that they’re here, they’re present,” he said. “But, obviously, we also want to acknowledge that there could be a safety concern with the holes they create, tripping hazards, things of that nature.”

A large gopher hole at Assiniboine Park is pictured on June 19, 2024. (Daniel Halmarson/CTV News Winnipeg)

Lincoln Poulin, president of Poulin’s Pest Control, said the weather in the last couple of years is to blame for the increase in gophers.

“The last couple of years are kind of ideal,” he said. “Mild winters and then heavy snowpack winters, insulation and the young. It’s not killing off the gophers.”

Poulin added that Richardson ground squirrel populations are huge in rural areas like Brandon and Selkirk.

“They’re the ones that burrow into the ground and then run all over in open fields, and the infestation is actually going to continue to get worse,” he said.

The number of gophers has prompted Brandon police to remind people they can’t shoot gophers within city limits.

“It does seem to be that we’re seeing more infestations in more of our parks throughout the city and we’re getting more calls regarding them this year,” said Perry Roque, director of parks and recreation with the City of Brandon.

A trio of gophers is shown frolicking at The Forks on June 19, 2024. (Daniel Halmarson/CTV News Winnipeg)

Roque said they’re working with Poulin’s Pest Control to help control the population.

“We have to go with a product called Giant Destroyers,” Poulin said. “It’s a smoke euthanization. We put a smoke bomb down into the gopher hole and kills through suffocation; it’s very labour intensive.”

Peters said they’re working with Parks Canada on a population control solution.

“It’s simply the safety of the holes,” he said. “We do want people to be able to play in these fields and actively use them. And so making sure that we can have that coexisting relationship with the Richardson ground squirrels.”

Poulin said if you see gopher holes in your yard, you should take care of them quickly, as the greater the number of holes means more gophers.

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