Page 3 of 3 Previous

Continued: Minnesota counties continue to offer bounties for gophers

  • Article by: DAN LINEHAN , Associated Press
  • Last update: January 17, 2009 - 12:48 PM

MANKATO, Minn. - Elaine Poulson is now accustomed to counting gopher tails. They're delivered in plastic bags or cheap bins, and Poulson counts each one.

In Nicollet County's Lafayette Township, each pocket gopher nets $3. The tails themselves end up in Poulson's garden.

"One time, somebody turned in feet. That was grisly," she said.

In 2008, the township collected 436 gophers, and paid $1,308. Nicollet County reimburses its townships, but only at $1 per tail, leaving the township to pick up most of the fee.

State laws allowing counties to offer bounties for gophers were enacted in 1909, and many counties continue to offer the bounty because, well, it's just always been done that way.

"It's probably never been called into question," said Dennis McCoy, administrator of Blue Earth County, where the bounties were set at a recent County Board meeting at $1 per pocket gopher and 50 cents per striped gopher.

"Those aren't real high-buck items in the county budget, obviously," he said. "If we're looking for savings, we'll look for larger items than that."

Blue Earth County spent $750 on bounties in 2007 and $256.50 in 2008. Nicollet County spent $489 last year.

But McCoy and others hint that if the bounties ever go away, it would be in a year like this one.

"We are looking under every rock to find ways to reduce our expenditures. Maybe it's an item they're going to visit this year," he said.

The gophers targeted by bounties aren't the same species you see bounding alongside roads or cheering on the University of Minnesota's athletic teams.

These are "pocket" gophers, and they're responsible for large mounds of dirt often seen in fields and lawns. They live almost all of their life underground and their hairless tails and short fur make them look like moles or large rats.

As Mankato outdoorsman Marty Walgenbach puts it: "Unless you trap 'em, you've never seen a pocket gopher."

Striped gophers — actually ground squirrels — are sometimes caught in the traps, but they don't dig the holes themselves and they typically earn only half the bounty of a pocket gopher. Though the details may vary township to township, striped gophers are redeemed in Blue Earth County's Lime Township with their fluffy tails, while pocket gopher bounties are collected with a pair of their large, clawed front legs.

Walgenbach said pocket gophers are so named for the pouches alongside their mouths that they use to store grass.

There have been 109 striped gophers redeemed for bounty in Blue Earth County over the past two years, compared to 667 pocket gophers.

Adam Miller, 22, began setting pocket gopher traps when he was 13 or so. After a season of stalking around in fields alongside his brother and stepfather, they'd collect the feet in a butter dish or an ice cream pail and set off for the township building.

After splitting the catch three ways, Adam would end up with maybe $150, but he wouldn't rush off to buy a video game or go to the movies.

"I was a saver," he said. "It went to the bank."

Once he caught a weasel in a trap, and his stepfather had its hide tanned. Another time, he watched a snowy owl descend on a gopher's body.

Now he traps gopher less often, but is the go-to guy when a family acquaintance spots mounds popping up on their lawns.

Walgenbach traps gophers on a neighbor's horse pasture in exchange for permission to hunt for deer there. The burrows can be dangerous to horses that might accidentally injure a leg stepping in them.

Gopher hunting with traps is pretty simple as Walgenbach, 30, explains it.

He finds a mound of dirt, then uses a 2-foot-long piece of metal to find the tunnel. Then he clears away the dirt and places a trap with a name like a heavy metal band — it's called a "death clutch" — into the hole.

No bait is necessary, because the pocket gophers don't like light, and crawl up in an attempt to close the hole, he said. They're killed by the trap, and Walgenbach cuts the front legs off and puts them in a box affixed to his four-wheeled ATV.

He's caught more than 300 during the past few years.

Gopher trapping probably traces back to the initial efforts to farm here, said Lyle Femrite, a supervisor at Decoria Township.

Their holes and mounds were a problem for farmers, especially those raising a hay crop because the dirt interfered with the harvest. Bounties were enacted to create an incentive to remove gophers.

The gophers have become less of a nuisance as farming practices changed. Corn and soybeans are less vulnerable to the pests, but they have been known to dig kernels of corn out of the ground after planting, Femrite said.

The rodents can still cause problems to a hay crop and their holes can pose a danger to horses.

Others just don't like the look of mounds on their manicured lawns. But even if killing one gopher puts an end to its own burrowing, the practice of trapping isn't likely to make a huge impact on their numbers.

Tom Conroy, with the southern region of the Department of Natural Resources, says, "Our experience has been that bounties typically don't work."

First, "nature abhors a vacuum," meaning gophers will repopulate habitats even if they're consistently killed.

Bounties are also typically difficult to manage; it's usually impossible to prove that the animal was harvested in the jurisdiction offering the bounty.

And as with any organism, "they all play a role, they're all connected," so a reduction in the gopher population is bound to have unintended side effects.

"You just wonder what the motivations for providing bounties are, when you look at the facts: (they're) a temporary stopgap measure with no long-term results," Conroy said.

Still, the gopher hunters see it differently.

For Walgenbach, it's an excuse to tool around on his ATV.

For Dennis Leiferman of Mankato, it can be a good way for kids to make some extra spending money.

"I really don't see why more people don't do it," he said. "Once you get the knack of it, it's easy to do."

___

Information from: The Free Press, http://www.mankatofreepress.com

  • related content

  • Northern pocket gopher

  • Pocket gopher trap

  • Pocket gopher feet

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Philadelphia 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Utah 101 FINAL
Orlando 94
Charlotte 109 FINAL
Philadelphia 91
Brooklyn 91 FINAL
Cleveland 95
Washington 105 FINAL
Miami 103
Minnesota 98 FINAL
Boston 114
Toronto 110 FINAL
Detroit 100
Chicago 103 FINAL
Memphis 97
Portland 129 FINAL
San Antonio 119
LA Clippers 106 FINAL
Denver 109
Oklahoma City 104 FINAL
LA Lakers 103
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 3
Anaheim 2 FINAL
Ottawa 6
NY Islanders 2 FINAL
Detroit 1
Boston 1 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
Dallas 2 FINAL
Calgary 1
Wilberforce 71 FINAL
Youngstown St 92
Jackson State 49 FINAL
Tulane 56
Siena 66 FINAL
Radford 76
Stillman 49 FINAL
Alabama 69
Case Western Reserve 65 FINAL
Bucknell 88
Niagara 62 FINAL
Buffalo 88
SD Christian 46 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 69
Concordia (MI) 60 FINAL
Central Mich 97
Northern Ill 55 FINAL
Dartmouth 58
North Florida 83 FINAL
Florida A&M 65
Hiwassee 71 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 91
Tennessee St 54 FINAL
Hampton 66
NC A&T 57 FINAL
Kent State 71
Central Penn College 65 FINAL
Liberty 94
Eastern Ky 72 FINAL
Miami-Florida 44
Northern Ky 83 FINAL
Morehead State 60
Northern Ariz 62 FINAL
Norfolk State 81
MD-Eastern Shore 43 FINAL
Old Dominion 60
St Marys-CA 47 FINAL
St Johns 53
Clemson 45 FINAL
South Carolina 68
Tenn Tech 58 FINAL
Tennessee 61
Washington-MD 46 FINAL
William & Mary 86
Bethune-Cookman 46 FINAL
Mercer 67
Furman 78 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 83
South Dakota St 53 FINAL
CS-Bakersfield 49
Milligan 53 FINAL
Lamar 80
LSU-Alexandria 71 FINAL
ULM 76
Southern Utah 57 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 73
Chattanooga 58 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 68
Seattle 57 FINAL
Minnesota 92
Lipscomb 55 FINAL
Princeton 77
Winthrop 71 FINAL
SE Louisiana 81
Dickinson State 48 FINAL
North Dakota 78
New Orleans 56 FINAL
Southern Ill 52
TX-Pan American 60 FINAL
Creighton 75
Colorado State 85 FINAL
Denver 84
Alabama A&M 49 FINAL
Marquette 83
Ark-Pine Bluff 51 FINAL
Texas Tech 72
Eastern Wash 67 FINAL
California 78
Idaho State 56 FINAL
Utah State 69
Arizona 60 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 55
Hawaii 94 FINAL
Chaminade 63
Nevada 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Ohio Valley 33 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
East Tenn St 48 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 61
Cal-Irvine 44 FINAL
Purdue 69
Campbell 63 FINAL
Stetson 76
Jacksonville St 70 FINAL
Charleston Southern 43
Louisiana 64 FINAL
Alcorn State 57
Denver 63 FINAL
Wright State 72
Blue Mountain 30 FINAL
Central Arkansas 71
Texas State 51 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 40
Albany 62 FINAL
Pepperdine 36
TX-San Antonio 53 FINAL
Houston 56
Yale 66 FINAL
Bucknell 73
Northern Colorado 56 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 69
Belmont 86 FINAL
Mercer 83
Massachusetts 66 FINAL
Georgia State 71
George Mason 69 FINAL
Winthrop 57
Portland State 33 FINAL
Princeton 104
UCLA 71 FINAL
Samford 52
Mobile 30 FINAL
Alabama State 66
Nicholls 49 FINAL
Texas Tech 76
Toledo 65 FINAL
Nevada 56
UMass Lowell 48 FINAL
(13) Duke 95
St Marys-CA 49 FINAL
Virginia 62
McNeese State 55 FINAL
Rice 57
McMurry 49 FINAL
Houston Baptist 69
NJIT 62 FINAL
Seton Hall 74
(6) North Carolina 65 FINAL
Maine 36
Lafayette 58 FINAL
Stony Brook 60
Siena 62 FINAL
Binghamton 53
Longwood 56 FINAL
Clemson 72
Savannah State 51 FINAL
Florida State 97
(19) Syracuse 72 FINAL
(9) Baylor 74
Buffalo 68 FINAL
Manhattan 58
Canisius 43 FINAL
Michigan 79
Davidson 66 FINAL
NC State 82
Northern Ky 63 FINAL
Delaware 58
Saint Louis 81 FINAL
Austin Peay 86
(25) DePaul 64 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 98
Ohio U 74 FINAL
La Salle 63
Florida Atlantic 60 FINAL
Long Beach St 85
Miami-Florida 65 FINAL
Tulane 70
Miss Valley St 39 FINAL
Memphis 62
Ark-Pine Bluff 56 FINAL
UAB 65
Bowling Green 58 FINAL
Illinois State 54
Arkansas State 78 FINAL
Missouri State 62
ULM 42 FINAL
Wichita State 57
(16) Oregon State 71 FINAL
Southern Ill 55
Pacific 67 FINAL
New Mexico St 62
No Dakota State 79 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 86
Utah State 92 FINAL
Sacramento St 102
Bethesda (CA) 61 FINAL
Fresno State 83
Utah Valley U 44 FINAL
Montana 68
LSU 78 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 45
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close