Got gophers? SLO County pest expert has tips for how to get rid of them – The San Luis Obispo Tribune

Have you ever discovered dirt mounds in the middle of your lawn?

These unsightly heaps are likely the work of gophers, moles or ground squirrels. But how do you know which critter is at fault? And what is the best way to rid your property of these new residents?

Ray Festa may have the answer for you.

He served as the superintendent of golf courses for San Luis Obispo County Parks and Recreation for 34 years, managing a 20-man crew for three golf courses. Much like Bill Murray’s groundskeeper character in “Caddyshack,” Festa picked up plenty of training in pest control.


To combat ground squirrels, pest control expert Ray Festa recommends using Squirrelinator trap and bait stations.

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He’ll conduct a workshop on dealing with pests at the UCCE Master Gardener’s Fall Fruit Festival on Saturday.

Festa’s favorite method for gophers is trapping. His preferred trap is the Gophinator, a stainless steel spring trap that will not rust and works well.

Festa recommends tying a line to the trap and staking it to the ground. This will keep the trap from disappearing further into the hole — and also stop a predator from taking off with the gopher and your new trap. (Festa said it’s not uncommon for a predator to dig out a hole to take a pest.)

A similar gopher trap Festa has had great success is the Macabee, which will also need to be staked down.

Another trap that works well for catching pests is the Cinch trap. They are available in a variety of sizes and are used for moles and gophers.

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Ray Festa, UCCE Master Gardener, demonstrates how to place a trapline gopher trap in a gopher hole.

Joe Johnston

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For California gophers, you’ll want to buy the small-size Cinch trap, which has a 2.25-inch jaw opening. This will ensure the trap will fit into the smaller runway tunnels common to this type of gopher.

Festa prefers leaving the gopher hole open or placing a small piece of wood with a small hole drilled in the center over the gopher hole after setting the trap. The gopher will then sense an opening in the tunnel system and will likely come towards the opening to make repairs to secure the tunnel.

The trap recommended for moles is a harpoon-style trap. This trap is set in the mole’s run, so it would require a little digging on your part. (Moles generally do not surface above ground as gophers will.)

For ground squirrels, the best options are the Squirrelinator trap and bait stations.

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Ray Festa, UCCE Master Gardener, holds a Wilco Ground Squirrel Bait Station.

Joe Johnston

The Squirrelinator features a metal cage which traps the squirrel when they enter to feed on bait. You’ll then need to dispatch the pests, since the trap will not kill them.

The bait station has a baffle system that allows squirrels to enter but keeps other animals out. The bait that’s used is an anti-coagulant; usually the squirrels will die in their nests.

Predators that have access to a baited squirrel will get sick, but most likely the effect will not be lethal as with poisons used in the past.

If you have a lot of property, you might look into owl boxes or raptor perches to attract beneficial predators.


For California gophers, you’ll want to buy the small-size Cinch trap, which has a 2.25-inch jaw opening.

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5 tips for preventing garden pests

Identify the problem. Knowing which pest you are trying to rid is the key.

Pest control is a multi-point attack. You may need to use traps and bait, and attract beneficial predators.

Pest control can take years. You may rid your property of pests, but the tunnel system is still there. A new batch of pests will likely move into the now empty living spaces.

Break it up. It’s ideal to disc the soil in your landscape to break up the tunnel systems.

Level it out. If you are just starting pest control, level out all mounds with a rake, then come back in a day or two. This will help you hit all the animal’s locations and identify the most active mound to bait or trap.

Fall Fruit Festival

The UCCE Master Gardeners of San Luis Obispo County will hold the Fall Fruit Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at 2156 Sierra Way in San Luis Obispo.

There will be fruit tastings, and Gopher Glen Organic Apple Farm will sell fruit and baked goods.

The UCCE Master Food Preservers will give all-day workshops on preserving fall fruits. Other workshops available include “Beekeeping” and “How to Take Care of your Garden Tools.” There will also be exhibits and activities for adults and children.

For more information, visit

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