How to get rid of ground squirrels moving to your yard in a California drought year
Q. Since the drought, ground squirrels have taken over my yard. Due to water restrictions, I let my back lawn go brown and the ground squirrels have built burrows in my backyard. They are very destructive. The squirrels have chewed up drip line and have eaten several plants in my yard. Now they are building a burrow under the corner of my garage. What can I do to rid my yard of these pests?
A. Ground squirrels seem to have increased in population during this drought. It may be due to the squirrels moving to yards where they can get water as the native landscape dries up.
Here at Shasta College in Redding, we have also seen an increase in activity and damage from ground squirrels. Burrows are popping up in pastures and they ate the grapes off of the vines, climbing under the netting in the vineyard.
This is a pest that can be hard to control. They will eat virtually any growing plant, and their burrowing can also be very destructive to trees and hazardous to livestock.
The California Fish and Wildlife code classifies ground squirrels as nongame animals; unlike some species of tree squirrel that are classified as game animals and have a hunting season. So it’s important to make sure you properly identify the squirrel before removing it.
Because they are considered non-game animals, property owners can use any humane method to remove ground squirrels. The main methods of control are trapping, fumigation and baiting.
Trapping can work during all seasons except winter, when the animals are least active. It’s illegal to relocate wildlife, so live traps are not recommended as you then have to release the live squirrel.
There are several types of kill traps including box traps, tunnel traps and Conibear traps. If you do use one of these type of traps, place them in a covered box with a 3-inch diameter entrance/exit to reduce hazards to children, pets, poultry and other wildlife.
Fumigation is best done in spring time and can be a better means of control then trapping. Since ground squirrels breed only once a year in the springtime, fumigation can work well to control populations all year.
Fumigation works from early spring to early summer as long as the soil is still damp. When using fumigants, read and follow all label instructions. Some fumigants can produce flames, or have fumes accumulate that may leak into a building if burrows are to close, so be cautious when using this method.
Later in the summer baiting may work to remove the ground squirrels as this is when they’re eating seeds and will be more drawn to the baits. If you do use bait, make sure to use bait stations that don’t allow pets to gain access to it, and don’t use baits that will kill other animals that might eat the deceased squirrel.
To discourage population buildups, remove brush piles and debris where ground squirrels can hide from predators. Destroy old burrows to at least 20 inches down in the soil.
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For more detailed information on ground squirrels and the different methods of control or to see plans for an easy to build bait station visit the UC IPM website at bit.ly/3yd2WAs.
The Shasta Master Gardeners Program can be reached by phone at 530-242-2219 or email email@example.com. The gardener office is staffed by volunteers trained by the University of California to answer gardeners' questions using information based on scientific research.