Gophers tear up soccer fields, green space in Sacramento’s Greenhaven neighborhood

Holes mark the burrows of gophers in Seymour Park.
Holes mark the burrows of gophers in Seymour Park. jcrane@sacbee.com

Gophers have made a dirty mess in the Pocket/Greenhaven greenbelt in Sacramento, and some neighbors say the rodents are moving into their yards.

The grass in Seymour Park is speckled with mounds of dirt. Dog owners say they stay on the sidewalk. Kids no longer play soccer on the fields for fear of falling into a hole.

“The park was beautiful,” said longtime resident and local soccer coach Luis Neves. “People should care because we need to keep the parks usable.”

Maria “Marycon” Razo, a spokeswoman for the city of Sacramento, said park maintenance staff members think the drought has contributed to the increased numbers of gophers in the greenbelt. She said gophers – which are native to California – are vegetarians and like to eat grass. When the land becomes dry, they seek out vegetation and well-irrigated areas.

“Gophers have always been in the park, but there has been a notable increase in the gopher population at Seymour Park this last year,” Razo said. “Park maintenance believes that lack of water – due to the drought – has been the main cause, as well as lack of predators.”

Neves said his team used to practice on fields at Caroline Wenzel, an elementary school connected to the park. Two years ago they stopped using the fields because it was no longer safe for the children to practice there since they could fall in the holes and break an ankle, he said.

Within the last year, the parks maintenance staff received three formal email complaints about gophers in Seymour Park although the city’s 311 call center did not receive any logged complaints from residents, Razo said.

Sacramento parks supervisor Tiger Badhan said he has received about 10 complaints from residents within the last couple of weeks about the gophers in the park. The city has hired an independent contractor that looked at the park on Monday, he said.

“There is a problem, and the city is treating it,” Badhan said.

The gophers have popped up in the yards of some nearby residents in the past couple of years. The issue is something Bob McCarroll, a resident of Southlite Circle for 38 years, has been dealing with for the past year.

McCarroll said he has killed five gophers, four in his front lawn and one in his backyard, with smoke bombs. He said he thinks the city should pay for them.

He said he had previously called the city Department of Parks and Recreation and was told the city did not have funding to address the issue. “We want the city to do something about this,” McCarroll said. “The gophers have invaded the park and now they are invading my home.”

John Young, a resident of the neighborhood for about 40 years, said he has not had a problem with the gophers in his yard but is concerned about having issues in the future as well as the safety of neighbors and park visitors.

Young said the gophers weaken the soil by creating tunnels underground that may lead to a cost associated with repairing sidewalks and streets. The gophers decrease the aesthetic value of the neighborhood and have potential to carry disease, he added.

According to the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, pocket gophers feed on plants and trees and can cause damage to yards. They can gnaw on sprinkler systems and plastic water lines and their tunnels can carry off water that leads to soil erosion.

Not everyone is upset about the number of gophers in the neighborhood. Tyler Gee, recent graduate of California State University, Sacramento, who runs on the sidewalk around the park regularly, said the city has more important funding priorities.

Jennifer Malana, a newcomer to the neighborhood, said she noticed a couple of mounds on her lawn, but they don’t bother her since she’s not watering her grass because of the drought.

Park maintenance staff has hired a pest control company to deal with the issue and is concerned about the safety of the public, Razo said. The city requests residents call 311 if they are experiencing gopher issues at Seymour Park.

Jennifer Crane: 916-321-1161, @Jenn_Crane