If Manteca ever needs a city mascot may I suggest the gophers?
Take a stroll around Manteca and it is obviously the most abundant native species is the same one Bill Murray made famous in “Caddyshack.”
You might think the Parks and Recreation mascot dubbed “Parky” is a gopher but Parks & Recreation Deputy Director Toni Lundgren insists it is a squirrel. A rodent is a rodent and while the two are cousins no way does a squirrel come as close to being as non-lovable as a gopher.
Gophers treat city parks, yards, and sports fields as if they were all-you-can-eat buffets.
This causes a special challenge for city work crews given there are less state and federal restrictions on death row concoctions compared to what municipalities are allowed to use to kill gophers in public places.
The reason is simple. There’s stuff in things like gopher bombs and other poisons that can linger in a dead gopher making it toxic to birds of prey that may snatch them up for a meal or pets that might nibble on them.
Gopher traps are a no-no given if a kid or an adult stuck their hands or feet into a gopher hole where one is placed they could easily get speared.
Given the city literally kills thousands of gophers a year that create safety hazards in municipal parks and pig out in landscaped areas, having few options at your disposal can create issues.
The city solved that problem by switching to compressed carbon monoxide generated by a device known as the Pressurized Exhaust Rodent Control. It has a gas engine that generates carbon monoxide that is compressed to 110 PSI and then injected via rods into tunnels. The concentrated carbon monoxide kills the gophers almost instantly without leaving behind toxins.
The process requires two people with 5 to 10 minutes spent per gopher run injection. It’s time consuming and underscores what the city is up against. Gopher control, an essential undertaking in order to keep parks free of tripping hazards created by gopher mounds, now takes two parks workers to do over a longer time period thanks to state and federal regulations as the city struggles with lean staffing.
The City of Manteca was the first in the area to use the technology. Nearby cities as well as the Manteca Unified School District have observed Manteca’s success and have purchased the devices as well.
It makes sense that Manteca would lead the way given this is the gopher equivalent of Club Med. There’s plenty of sandy loam, lots of almond orchards, and people willing to tempt fate by planting gopher munchies in their yards.
Gophers eat 60 percent of their body weight each day. That’s a lot of rose bush roots, tender young almond tree roots, tulip bulbs, and assorted munchies like Gazanias.
Gophers also reproduce rapidly. Females produce three or four offspring twice a year for the two to three years they live. They start producing off spring five months or so after they’re born. Gophers reproduce like rabbits.
Speaking of rabbits since this is Manteca’s centennial year, the gopher problem is nothing compared to the rabbit problem 70 to 80 years ago. That’s when rabbits were so pervasive and destructive Manteca farmers organized one day festive rabbit hunts. Published accounts from the 1920s and1930s put the top one-day kill from the annual events at right around 10,000.
My fascination with gophers started six months after we bought our home that was built in 1952 in the middle of what was once an almond orchard. At one point an exterminator told us we had 32 gopher runs in the side yard alone.
I had gone 34 years before seeing a gopher. Then I moved from Lincoln with its heavy clay soils to Manteca.
I’ll never forget the first gopher I tried to kill. It was early on a Sunday afternoon. I was dressed in black slacks, black shoes, a black and white stripped referee shirt and had slipped a whistle around my neck. I got into the car to head to East Union High to officiate city adult recreation basketball games. As I turned the corner our home was on, I noticed something bobbing up and down out of the grass at the base of a Modesto ash tree. I stopped the car and went to investigate. As soon as I realized it was a gopher, I made a rookie mistake. I grabbed a hose thinking I could drown the gopher, stuck it down the hole and turned the water on. I had no idea at the time a mature gopher could have a tunnel system with a 700-yard range.
After draining what must have been the equivalent of Lake Tulloch in a fruitless attempt to drown the mangy thing, I went around back to grab a shovel. But instead of finding a shovel I had to settle for an ax.
So there I was with my back to the street corner dressed as a basketball referee wildly swinging the ax every time the gopher’s head popped up when I got the feeling you get when someone is looking at you. I turned around and there stopped in the middle of the intersection was a new BMW with two couples dressed in their Sunday best with all of their mouths hanging wide open.
I found out later it was the minister and his wife along with another couple of the congregation that had purchased the former Mormon meeting house down the street.
I least I didn’t use plastic explosives.