Vole infestation wreaks havoc on woman’s backyard in Island Lakes

While many Manitobans share photos of their wrecked lawns online, one Winnipeg woman knows the problem all too well: voles.

The small, chunky mouse-like rodents tunnel and nest underground. They like to munch on seeds and roots have destroyed Gina Remillard’s Island Lakes lawn — and not for the first time.

“I was a little horrified because it means a whole summer of trying to reseed and nurture the lawn again,” Remillard said Monday.

She cut her grass very short before the onset of winter, but the voles returned, and she fears they will be back next year.

Remillard used to be a dog owner, and during that time she didn’t have a problem with voles.

“I guess they [could] sense the dog being in the backyard, and most of them stayed away,” she said.

Two prairie voles huddle next to each other.
Voles live under the cover of snow but above ground. (Nastacia Goodwin)

Remillard rarely sees the voles, which don’t often come out during the daytime. They like long grass and low decks, which provide them with warmth and winter protection from predators such as foxes, hawks and owls.

Voles can cause significant damage to lawns, plants and trees.

“They’re very slow moving and if you see one you can really you can just whack it because they don’t run, but I don’t kill them,” Remillard said. “What’s the point? Kill one and there’s 30 behind them.”

She’s considering applying a special type of fertilizer, which has an odour voles dislike, to her lawn next fall.

Preventing a vole infestation

Suzy Rayner has been doing pest control with her company, Valkyrie Pest Solutions, for nine years. Rayner says the best treatment for voles is prevention.

“A good thing to do is to just eliminate harbourage areas and food sources for them. Voles like to eat more natural foods, so they’re going for grains and seeds and the root systems of vegetation,” she said.

A woman in a chewed up backyard.
Suzy Rayner of Valkyrie Pest Solutions says homeowners can take steps in the fall to ensure they aren’t greeted by a vole infestation in their yard once spring arrives. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Spillage from bird feeders onto lawns can also attract voles, according to Rayner.

Piles of leaves, sticks, or firewood are ideal hiding spots for voles, and should be eliminated, or have them be at least a foot above the ground, she said.

If a vole infestation has occurred, snap traps can be used to help identify the critters’ paths. But they should be covered if kids or pets frequent the area the traps have been set in.

Rodenticide can also be used, but Rayner doesn’t recommend using it because it’s challenging to know where voles will die after ingesting it, and that could contribute to greater risks for non-target species like cats and squirrels. 

Even with all these precautions are taken, voles can still infest a yard.

“You’re never going to 100 per cent to be able to keep them away. They’re a wild animal and they’re out here and they deserve to be here as much as we do,” Rayner said. “But you want to make it so that your yard is less hospitable for them and then maybe they’ll leave you alone.”

Remillard hopes the voles will leave her yard alone.

She knows the first step toward recapturing her backyard is power raking all of the dead grass, and reseeding it with a bit of topsoil.

And she’s looking forward to not having to worry about where to put the little swimming pool for her grandchildren to enjoy.

“It’s just a nice little place cause I get full sun in the summer time,” Remillard said. “It’s just just really nice to sit out here when I put my furniture out on the deck and my barbecue and it’s a nice place to entertain.” 

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