Gopher, Mole and Vole Control Strategies
Got Gophers, Moles Or Voles?
Use barriers and targeted traps to minimize damage and safely remove these unwanted pests. Regular monitoring will help you quickly find and act on signs of damage before their destructive activities result in unsightly dirt mounds, ruined plantings or a failing lawn.
Gopher, Mole and Vole Control Basics
Pocket gophers in your vegetable beds, moles tearing up the lawn and voles gnawing on your fruit trees quickly become irksome pests. These rodents are active all year round, industriously expanding their burrows and damaging your turf. If you identify signs of a gopher, mole or vole invasion there are low impact approaches to remove them with targeted traps and discourage future intrusions. Remove attractants where possible and take steps to protect vulnerable plants to help you keep your yard free of damage.
Common Gopher Attractants
- Garden crops with tubers and crowns.
- Many native weeds provide food for gophers, including poppies, plantain, oxalis and clovers.
- Vacant burrow systems ready for re-occupancy.
Common Mole Attractants
- Fertile, moist, sandy loam soils.
- Insects, grubs, worms, snails and beetles.
- Soils with a fairly low acidity and high levels of organic matter.
Common Vole Attractants
- Fruit trees, garden crops and flower bulbs.
- Weeds, heavy mulch and dense vegetative cover.
- Old runways and empty vole, mole or gopher burrows.
Guidelines to Maintaining a Gopher, Mole and Vole Free Yard
Three Guiding Principles
|Install wire barriers to protect vulnerable plants and turf.||Look for crescent or horseshoe shaped mounds of soil with a small circular plug or holes surrounded by a clipped band of vegetation to identify gopher damage.||For gophers use two-pronged pincher traps, box traps and black hole traps to catch these pests in their burrows.|
|Reduce attractants and make the area less habitable for these pests.||Look for rounder, volcano shaped dirt mounds and raised ridges of upheaved soil to identify mole damage. Most destruction is from excavated dirt smothering lawns.||For moles use cinch traps, scissor traps, harpoon traps and chocker loop traps to catch these pests in their tunnels.|
|Clear away garden debris to improve visibility for monitoring.||Look for fresh clipped trails in the grass leading to small, very round and clean open holes to identify vole damage.||For voles a standard snap trap will catch these pests in their runways as they exit the burrow.|
See our section on gopher, mole and vole traps below for more information.
Recommendations for Prevention
- Plant strategically and choose gopher and vole neutral plants such as daffodils and sage.
- Reduce the potential food supply for moles, pack down soil and reduce soil moisture. For example, cut back on watering your lawn to partially dry the soil beneath.
- Knock down soil mounds and clear garden debris during and after successful treatment so that new activity can be easily spotted. Management is ongoing and you may have to repeat the treatment process to keep these rodents out.
- Monitor your site; the re-occupancy rate of burrows can be rapid.
- Use gopher baskets. Choose a basket that will accommodate the root system of your plant as it grows. Stainless steel wire is very effective and lasts a long time.
- Install wire mesh to protect your garden and lawn. Lay 1-2 inches of soil between the mesh and sod roots—install too high, gophers will pull down the grass through the wire and install too low, they will tunnel over it. This barrier will prevent moles from pushing dirt up or living above the wire. Wire mesh bottoms can also be placed in raised beds to exclude these pests.
- Create a vertical barrier. For gophers and moles dig a trench 2-3 feet deep and install the wire at a ninety-degree bend to the outside (making an L shape), with an above ground portion of at least 6 inches.
- A wire mesh fence at least 12 inches above the ground and extending 6-10 inches below the soil surface will exclude voles from the area.
- Protect trees, vines and ornamentals from girdling by using wire mesh cylinders that surround the trunks. Bury the cylinder’s bottom below the soil surface, in areas with snow make it tall enough to extend above snow level, and make sure it is wide enough to accommodate new growth.
For illustrations of some of these barrier methods, see the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s webpage on Living with Wildlife.
Promote Natural Predators
Natural predators such as snakes, hawks, and owls can help to control rodent populations by feeding on gophers, moles and voles. Barn owls are efficient hunters and a family of barn owls can eat as many as 1,000 gophers per year. To encourage barn owls to nest and stay in your area, consider installing a nesting box. Strategic placement of nesting boxes combined with the use of traps and other preventative measures will go a long way to managing your rodent problems.
For more information on installing and maintaining nesting boxes, visit the Hungry Owl Project or the Barn Owl Box Company. Please note that the Hungry Owl Project strongly urges that NO rodent poisons be used indoors or outdoors while encouraging owls to your property. Using rodent poisons could kill an owl if it feeds on a poisoned rodent.
Treating Garden and Landscape Infestations
If you confirm that gophers, moles or voles are present in your yard, you will need to use a combination of preventative measures and treatment options to remove them. This section will focus on the treatment options available and provide an overview of traps.
Summary of Gopher, Mole and Vole Control Recommendations
Types of Traps
Benefits of Using Traps
Trapping is a safe effective method for controlling mole, vole and pocket gopher populations. Metal traps are affordable, can be reused and are long-lasting. Placed in burrows, moving parts are completely below the soil surface—safely away from children, pets and non-target wildlife. Using traps instead of rodent poisons provides clear confirmation of a captured rodent and allows you to better judge treatment success. Most importantly, using traps allows you to avoid using rodenticides, which pose a greater risk of exposure to children, pest, and non-target wildlife, including natural predators. Traps are the preferred alternative to using strychnine baits or gases; strychnine is a highly toxic convulsive poison and exposure through inhalation or swallowing can be fatal.
While live traps do provide a nontoxic alternative to rodenticides, their use is not recommended. Rodents caught in these traps might urinate or carry lice, fleas, ticks and pathogens, which increases the risk of spreading diseases. Also, if you release a captured mole, gopher or vole the animal will resume its destructive activities on your property, or it may become a problem for someone else to deal with. In some states such as California and Virginia it is unlawful to release a captured rodent on any property other than the one on which it was caught. Often, not enough consideration is given to the capture and release process, including how to transport the animal, where to free it, how the animal could continue its destructive behavior or harm resident wildlife populations at the release site.
If you are considering live traps as an option, please see the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s webpage on Trapping Wildlife.
Common Gopher Traps
|Two-pronged Pincher Trap||This trap is triggered when the gopher pushes against a flat, vertical pan. Pinchers close around the neck and squeeze tight. Click here to watch an instructional video on how to safely set a Macabee gopher trap.|
|Box Trap||The choker-style box trap contains a spring-loaded, ridged wire mechanism that snaps shut on the gopher, killing it quickly.|
|Black Hole Trap||This trap is made from a tube the same diameter as a gopher tunnel. Inside, a spring-loaded noose catches the gopher.|
|Live Trap||Placed in active lateral tunnels, this trap will contain the curious gopher that comes to investigate. Frequently check your traps, gophers will not tolerate being left in the trap for too long and may expire. Please read our comments above on the use of live traps.|
Common Mole Traps
|Cinch Trap||Pinchers close tightly around the mole's neck when the trap is triggered.|
|Scissor Trap||Scissor-like jaws close firmly across the runway, one pair on either side of the trigger pan. The two “U” shaped jaws connected with a hinge snap shut on the mole as it passes through.|
|Harpoon Trap||When the mole pushes up on the trigger pan, a spring is released and sharp spikes impale it. Works well for surface mounds. Click here to watch an instructional video on how to safely set a harpoon trap.|
|Choker Loop Trap||This trap has a loop that will tighten around the mole when it travels down its tunnel in either direction.|
|Pit Trap||A bucket with the rim level with the bottom of the tunnel and board placed above to block out light can serve as a live trap. The mole will fall in and be caught. Please read our comments above on the use of live traps.|
Common Vole Traps
|Snap Trap||This trap uses a spring-loaded bar to kill a rodent on contact. Use a simple rectangular cover to prevent disturbance and direct the vole to the trigger. Click here to watch an instructional video on how to safely set a snap trap.|
|Choker Loop Trap||This trap has a loop that will tighten around the vole when it travels down its tunnel in either direction. This type of trap also captures moles and is especially useful in situations where voles inhabit active mole tunnels.|
|Live Trap/Multiple-Catch Live Trap||This is a catch and release system that avoids killing captured voles. Please read our comments above on the use of live traps.|
Always follow the provided instructions for setting your traps. Check your traps frequently and reset/relocate as necessary. If you haven’t caught anything in two days, choose another trapping site.
Review all your options before deciding on a treatment plan. If you decide to work with a pest control professional, be sure the company is Ecowise, GreenShield or GreenPro certified and familiar with Integrated Pest Management techniques.
For information on the potential consequences of using rodenticides and precautionary steps, please see our Rodenticides advisory. If after assessing the risks to children, pets, and wildlife you still determine that rodenticides are necessary, take these additional precautionary steps to reduce risk:
- Keep baits out of reach of children, pets and wildlife by following the label instructions and placing your bait safely underground. Aboveground uses of strychnine are prohibited.
- Know your pest’s habits and burrow system so that bait is not accidentally pushed to the surface. If bait is put in a gopher’s lateral tunnel, the pest is more likely to push it out of its burrow while tunneling and this will increase the chance of non-target poisoning.
- Place vole baits in secure bait stations if using aboveground.
- Pick up all spilled bait and dispose of it according to the label instructions. Some products require disposal by incineration or burial in a pit at least 18 inches deep to prevent non-target poisonings.
- Areas where the bait has been used should be monitored on a regular basis for dead animals. Dispose of dead rodents by incineration or burial in a pit at least 18 inches deep to prevent pets and scavengers from unearthing carcasses. This reduces the risk of secondary poisoning in pets and wildlife.
- University of California, Davis IPM Online: Pests in Gardens and Landscapes, Moles, Pocket Gophers and Voles.
- National Pesticide Information Center: Problem Wildlife in the Garden and Yard, resources for gopher, mole and vole control.
- Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife: Living with Wildlife, Gophers and Moles.
- Penn State Extension Service: Wildlife Damage Control, Voles.
- Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management: learn more about managing pocket gopher, mole and vole infestations.
- Gophers Limited: Vertebrate Pest Control Without Pesticides.
- MolePro: Mole facts, damage, traits, habitat, reproduction and species information.