Gopher Bounties Still an Incentive for Trappers in Sherburne County, Elsewhere

Sherburne County resident Jerry Ehlenfelt and the traps he uses to catch pocket gophers. Photo: Photo provided by Jerry Ehlenfelt
Sherburne County resident Jerry Ehlenfelt and the traps he uses to catch pocket gophers.

March 29, 2018 06:01 AM

Jerry Ehlenfelt would likely continue trapping pocket gophers regardless.

The burrowing rodents, and the mounds they create, pose a nuisance on the 30 acres of land the retired Vietnam veteran owns between Big Lake and Elk River in Sherburne County.

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But, the $2 per gopher bounty he's able to collect from Big Lake Township each year makes the time he spends doing so even more worthwhile.

"It definitely provides you with a little more incentive to go out and get them," said Ehlenfelt, who turned in around 55 gophers last year. "I'd probably have to do it anyway. Those mounds can become a real issue, but you feel better making a little money for it."

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State law dating back to the first decade of the 20th century allows counties, towns and townships to offer such bounties.

While they have ceased in some places over the years, they remain alive and well in Sherburne County, where townships and even cities like Elk River still offer such financial incentives – usually around $1 or $2 per gopher.

The county itself reimburses part of that cost.

While it's certainly not a big portion of the budget – the total expenditure was $3,882.38 in 2017 and just $2,995.13 the year before – the county board recently voted to increase this year's reimbursement rate from 75 cents to $1, the first such increase since 2007.

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Sherburne County administrator Steve Taylor said the practice still makes sense in a county where the prevalence of gophers can damage agriculture and roads or cause flooding issues in ditches.

"It's not a big line item in the budget, but it's important to the townships," Taylor said. "I heard from a couple of township supervisors who suggested we raise the reimbursement rate, so we're not talking about a lot of dollars. But, it is important in places where gophers can be a real nuisance."

Bounties are collected when trappers bring pairs of their feet into the township to collect.

"Last fall, I think I brought in 55 gophers," Ehlenfelt said. "So that was like 100-some dollars. It's not a lot, but I'll go out and buy myself a new fishing rod or something like that."

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In the metro area, Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Washington, Scott and Dakota counties all said they do not offer gopher bounty reimbursements.

However, other counties still do. Blue Earth County, for example, pays a reimbursement rate of $1 per pocket gopher. Nicollet County also reimburses townships $1 per gopher, though the county paid out nothing from 2013-16 and only $194 in 2017, ncluding for a combination of gophers trapped in previous years.

"Gophers were more of a problem when there (were) more hay pastures because the gophers dug holes all over creating mounds and holes livestock could break an ankle in," Nicollet County administrator Ryan Krosch said in an email. "Gophers can also cause damages to roads from their digging and tunneling." 

Bryan Lueth, the habitat program manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, acknowledges pocket gophers can cause damage.

Though he said he has not seen evidence that indicates bounties do all that much to contain them.

"It's not something we have jurisdiction over, but I don't think bounties in general have proven to be particularly effective," he said. "You can clear out one area and the gophers can come over from the adjacent property. It can start to get like trying to bail out the ocean with a tea cup." 

Still, the practice remains in place in a number of the state's 1,792 townships, where the desire to prevent damage leads residents to trap gophers more than the bounties themselves, township officials say.

"The people who do this are really doing it to keep their property safe," said Brenda Kimberly-Maas, the clerk in Big Lake and Orrock Townships in Sherburne County. "Or they may have animals like horses, and they want to avoid a horse turning an ankle. 

"We don't have a maintenance person in Orrock Township. So once in awhile, if we notice a road we think may have been damaged because of gophers burrowing underneath, we'll call in someone we know in the township who has brought in gophers before, and we'll ask them to go and trap them," she said. "But again, those are township residents. No one is doing it just for the paycheck."

She added, "And it helps. A gopher can start off in somebody's yard. But then they'll try to get to a food source by tunneling under a road. They're prolific animals and it doesn't take much before they can do a lot of damage."

Which is why trappers like Ehlenfelt keep at it – bounty or not.

"I do it mainly just on my own property," he said. "I have done it a few times for neighbors, or other people who asked me for help. But usually it's just on my own land."

He added, "I don't do it for the money. I do it to get rid of them on my property. The money is just a nice bonus."

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Frank Rajkowski

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