Minnesota counties continue to offer bounties for gophers

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

Northern pocket gopher

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

  • 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

San Francisco - M. Bumgarner 7:07 PM
Kansas City - J. Shields
Houston 23 FINAL
Pittsburgh 30
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Houston 7:00 PM
Miami
Indiana 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Utah 7:00 PM
Oklahoma City
Portland 8:00 PM
Denver
Phoenix 9:00 PM
LA Lakers
LA Clippers 9:30 PM
Golden State
San Jose 6:00 PM
Boston
NY Rangers 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Toronto 6:00 PM
NY Islanders
Detroit 6:30 PM
Montreal
Arizona 7:00 PM
Nashville
Carolina 7:00 PM
Winnipeg
Philadelphia 7:30 PM
Chicago
Vancouver 7:30 PM
Dallas
Florida 8:00 PM
Colorado
Tampa Bay 8:00 PM
Calgary
Arkansas State 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
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