Prairie pest finds unlikely ally in the federal government

Stock photo. By ktpayn (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There is often a good natured debate about what they are called. Officially, they are the Richardson Ground Squirrel. In polite company they are most often called gophers. In farm country, what they are called is mostly unprintable, especially the adjectives. That being said, the much-maligned pest may have just found an ally in the federal government.

It cannot be denied that one ground squirrel is cute. It also cannot be denied that if you see one you probably have hundreds, and the damage hundreds do to pastures and fields is significant, not to mention costly. That is why farmers and ranchers have been taken aback by Health Canada’s proposed de-registration of strychnine.

Health Canada’s concern seems to be centred on risk to non-target animals, most notably endangered species, such as the swift fox and the burrowing owl, and that “mitigation measures would not be practical.” Farmers too, are concerned about non-target animals, so a brief description of how strychnine is used may be helpful.

The strychnine is first mixed with grain. Then the treated grain is put down the gopher hole. The hole is then covered over. In this way, neither the grain or squirrel become food for other parts of the food chain.

If uncontrolled, ground squirrels multiply like rabbits, quite literally. The most effective way to deal with them is with strychnine. Other methods are just too impractical, or expensive, or both. As a youth, I had a friend that shot over 120 ground squirrels in one morning. He ran out of shells before he ran out of ground squirrels.

As farmers are finding out about this proposed de-registration, they — understandably — are becoming very concerned.

The Agriculture Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) were contacted for comment and they released this statement:

“Gopher populations are a perennial pest problem in Saskatchewan that can lead to short-term production losses and long-term damages to farmland. Strychnine is one of the most popular control methods available. APAS is circulating the PMRA document and will consider a response before the Oct. 28 deadline, based on feedback from our membership.”

The consultation is open until September 27, 2018. If you have concerns with the proposal, contact Health Canada and make your voice heard.

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