Pocket gophers- Geomys bursarius in the East, Thomomys sp. in the west; turn out to be extremely serious pests. This time of year; early Fall, is when the young of the year leave their home burrows, and invade new territory. You MUST get them out; one way or another.
This kind of gopher; pocket gophers, not the cute little stripy kind (which can eat tons of hazel NUTS if you leave your grass too long all summer and the population builds up...)
Here you see the teeth, that they cut roots with (their main food) and also use to dig with; their tremendous claws, and the deep cheek pockets that give them their name.
In 2001, the extent of the damage to young hazels by pocket gophers finally became crystal clear to us.
Hazels from 1-2 years old are too small to be very interesting to gophers; they may eat one or two, but damage will be minimal.
From 3-5 year old hazels however ARE big enough (the root systems), so that a pocket gopher may settle down and EAT. All the roots. All. Then go on to the next hazel in the line, and eat (ie. kill) that one. Then the next. This is a disaster.
Each of these sticks was a 3 year old hazel.... this is all the gopher left.
Once the hazels are a little older, their root systems are SO big that in most cases the gophers will get either full, or bored, and move on before doing lethal damage to the plant; most will survive. (There are some indications that genetics plays a role here, with native North American genes making the hazels less tasty to gophers, and European hazels getting worse damage levels. Maybe, we think.)
So - it's become critical to exclude pocket gophers from our young plantings - and yours, too.
Fall is an important time to GET them, for two big reasons:
1) They do NOT hibernate like some other rodents, and will cheerfully eat roots all winter; under frozen soil and snow where you can't get to them. 2) The juvenile gophers of the year spread out, in mid fall, and invade new areas. This is the only time you'll ever see a pocket gopher above ground; once a year, the young will get up on the surface and run like mad- maybe a mile; maybe two; then burrow in. Possibly this is a mechanism to prevent inbreeding in a mammal that otherwise moves very little from its home territory.
So, in fall, you'll see new gopher invasions, where you haven't had them before- and, these new sites are almost entirely young, DUMB gophers, which are very easily trapped.
The good news is; gophers CAN actually be controlled; unlike mice, which you could trap and remove by the hundreds, without making a dent in their population, gophers breed slowly, and trapping can actually keep them effectively out. But it's work getting there. Best way to do it is not allow them to get established in the first place.
A whole treatise on gopher control will take more than this web log to cover- main point here is; if you have gophers, GET them OUT of your hazels, right now. One gopher can easily kill 20-40 hazel plants per year; and not newly planted ones, mind you, but 3-5 year old plants, just ready to start bearing those nuts- a 5 year old hazel is vastly more valuable than a 1 year old; all that work; all that time. Hard to put a dollar value on, but we'll guess it's somewhere around $40/plant, IF you could find a similar replacement, which you can't. So; one gopher, at 40 X $40 = $1,600.
Holy Cats! Really?? Yeah, if you're counting.
Get the gophers out. Most farm neighborhoods with gophers have bounties on them; and kids and sometimes adults who make money trapping them out. Find your local gopher control folks (call the county agent if nothing else occurs to you), and get them out of your hazels, right now; before the ground freezes.