The northern pocket gopher is a small gopher species native to the western United States and Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Manitoba.[1] Capable of surviving extremely harsh conditions, pocket gopher populations can expand rapidly when conditions are good. They live underground in burrow systems that are often extensive and elaborate. Their name refers to the large, fur-lined external cheek pouches they use to carry food as they scurry through underground tunnels.[2]


The northern pocket gopher measures about 203 mm in length with a short, nearly hairless tail of 63 mm. Its weight varies from 78 to 130g. It has soft reddish-brown upper fur and a dark gray underside. The fur can be smoothed forward or backward. Black patches surround the small, nearly hidden ears. Well-developed jaw, neck, forearm, and shoulder muscles give this rodent a solid appearance, while narrow hips and loose skin enable it to turn 180 degrees in its tunnels. It is equipped with long curved claws on three digits of its forepaws and sharply curved, always exposed yellowish incisors for digging and cutting. The northern pocket gopher has 20 teeth with a shallow groove near the inner side of each upper incisor.[3]


Northern pocket gophers’ burrow systems can span an area up to 75 square meters and can exceed 100 meters in length. Part of what makes pocket gophers pests is the burrow system they construct and the surface mounds that result. Northern pocket gophers are very damaging to farmers and their crops. In 1996, the Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives estimated that pocket gophers were responsible for producer losses of $15 to $22 million per year. Losses have only increased since then.[4]

For homeowners, northern pocket gophers can be a major nuisance as their tunneling and feeding habits will cause substantial damage to lawns and gardens, however there is a much bigger risk that they pose: tunneling in septic areas. Gophers can seriously damage your septic tanks, building burrows close to one of your installations. Gophers can damage your septic tank system in four different ways:

  1. Gophers can dig holes in your leach field
  2. They might generate direct damage to your pipes
  3. Their burrow can disrupt the flow of wastewater
  4. Gophers may cause foundation damage to your entire system[5]

Signs of Infestation

Pocket gophers are rarely seen above ground. They live almost entirely underground in the tunnel system they construct. The conspicuous, fan-shaped soil mounds over tunnel openings are the most obvious sign of a gopher infestation. These tunnel openings are almost always closed with a soil plug unless the gopher is actively excavating.[6]


There are three main methods for gophers: baiting, trapping and fumigation. Commercial baiting is our go-to treatment method for gophers, as it is highly effective and low-cost. Unfortunately, in Canada the products are quite restricted and you would not be able to purchase or apply these without valid licensing. Trapping is a very effective solution and what we recommend to homeowners who plan to treat northern pocket gophers themselves. The downside of trapping is that it is very time consuming, as there can be 30 to 40 gophers per acre.[7] The last option is fumigation. This involves putting a fumigant, such as carbon monoxide or sulfur, into their burrows. This method is generally ineffective, as gophers will quickly seal off their tunnels when they detect smoke or poison gas.


The City of Calgary provides two primary recommendations for preventing pocket gopher damage. 

  1. Run water from a hose pipe into tunnels as a first line of attack for new infestations
  2. Protect valuable shrubs or newly planted trees by circling with wire mesh that is embedded at least eighteen inches underground[8]

Aside from this, your best bet is to regularly (monthly) survey your property, especially in areas with lots of ground vegetation cover, and check for new gopher mounds. If you identify any, it is best to either begin trapping or engage a professional gopher control program immediately, as gophers will not generally leave on their own and the problem will only become worse with time. 


Their habitat  consists usually of good soil in meadows or along streams; most often in mountains, but also in lowlands. Northern pocket gophers rarely appear above ground and when they do, they rarely venture more than a meter from a burrow entrance.[9]


Gophers feed primarily on the roots of herbaceous plants. They may also come above ground to clip small plants within a few centimeters of the tunnel opening and pull vegetation into the burrow to eat.[10]

Lifecycle & Reproduction

Females bear as many as three litters each year, although typically only one or two per year, each averaging five young. Once weaned, the young gophers travel to a favorable location to establish their own burrow system. Some take over previously vacated burrows. The average life expectancy of a gopher is three years.[11]