Ground Hogs, Gopher Holes & Building or Septic Field Damage
Burrowing animal damage & remedies for groundhog & gopher problems: This article describes the types of damage caused by groundhogs, whistle pigs, woodchucks, gophers and other burrowing animals, including building leaks, foundation damage, and even septic drainfield damage.
We describe the various remedies for getting rid of pesky ground hogs or gophers and we recommend against a few of them. We include an anecdote about Laura Waterman giving a groundhog a ride in her car with some exciting results. Get outta town! The Groundhog chronicles report on a series of steps to get rid of a groundhog pest, testing groundhog repellents and using a groundhog trap.
Our page top photo shows a beautiful black groundhog on the Vassar College campus in Poughkeepsie, New York at dusk (I used a flash so his beady little eyes glint menacingly - click to enlarge the image). Watch out: especially if cornered, a frightened animal is as likely to bite you as to run away.
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Common areas of ground hog or gopher hole or burrow damage that we find at buildings and building sites include:
Burrows near the foundation wall: burrows from ground hogs (whistle pigs) near a building foundation wall and occasionally their smaller gopher hole can capture and direct roof spillage or surface runoff (photo at left) right down against the building foundation wall.
Burrows by gophers or groundhogs in soakaway beds, septic fields, mound systems interrupt the seepage of wastewater into the soil and may allow it to appear on a downslope surface, creating unsanitary and smelly conditions. And some site features such as LAGOON SEPTIC SYSTEMS can be destroyed by a burrowing animal.
Falling hazards: Burrows anywhere on a property may create trip & fall hazards and may contribute to local SINKHOLES
Foundation damage: burrowing animals can lead to undermined footings, even foundation wall collapses. See SINKING BUILDINGS.
Try a gopher or groundhog repellent. Koehler et als (1990) and other experts discuss olfactory repellents along with other means to scare off animal pests while Roswell, Ritcey et als (1979) discuss the humaneness of this approach.
These products are available as liquids (intended for spraying on those plants whose tender budding tips are caviar to groundhogs, and as granules intended for sprinkling around gopher holes or groundhog burrows to invite those animals to move out.
The manufacturers of groundhog repellent products use a range of ingredients such as blood, garlic, herbs, and animal urine with what in our tests (below) give varying success.
Urine to repel gophers & groundhogs: I've tried dog pee, human pee, cat pee right into the gopher hole. (Don't try this if the gopher is at home or you may have a scary experience.) It was ineffective.
Some pest repellent products (for deer and other plant eaters) contain coyote urine that may be less delicious to your animal pests. Below at GROUNDHOG CHRONICLES we report on the success (or lack of it) using various groundhog repellent products and the ultimate resort to use of a groundhog trap.
Bleach to repel groundhogs & gophers: don't try this. I poured a gallon of household bleach into a groundhog burrow at the base of one of our pine trees. The gopher did move out but it killed the tree too.
At left we show a HavaHart animal trap that can be used to catch and remove groundhogs without harming them (other than their mental state). Animal-killing traps are also available but are not an approach we could recommend in a neighborhood where there are children and pets roaming around.
Illegal groundhog trap and release warning: Laura gets a Summons
Plagued by a ground hog living under our barn-garage, Laura Waterman borrowed a gopher trap. It worked -sort-of. She came home, found a gopher really really mad in the trap. With stunning courage Laura got the trap into the trunk of her car figuring she'd decide where to release the groundhog later. Picking up Mara at the babysitter, Laura saw a big open field near some apartments. "Gee, she thought, that'd be a nice place for the gopher."
Laura got the trap out of the trunk and with some trepidation, released the groundhog without getting bitten or peed-upon (the floor of the trunk of her car was another matter - CAR ODORS - ANIMALS). The whistle-pig didn't try to get back into the car with Laura, maybe because of her driving, I don't know. The groundhog was mad enough to bite someone but it was more scared of Laura. Taking a brief glance over its shoulder the hoglet dashed off into the field.
Unfortunately someone in one of the apartments also took a glance out their window and saw Laura opening the trunk of her old Mercedes and then releasing a groundhog in their yard. That person, unlike groundhogs and possums had great vision and was able to jot down Laura Waterman's car license tag number. Later that afternoon Laura was visited by the county Sheriff who was representing the law in this matter.
Gopher Killing Devices: you can rent or buy spring-loaded devices that plunge downwards when the gopher passes by in its burrow, killing it in place and leaving the animal buried, and close to the surface, smelling for a time. Watch out: some of these devices are a child hazard as well.
Poisons for groundhogs & gophers: probably work if you can be sure who's going to eat the poison (not another animal, child or pet), and if you don't care where the dead animal ends-up. Animal poisoning may be illegal in your neighborhood. Check with your local animal control officer or health or building department.
(Oct 3, 2012) Kelly said:
LOVE your website - has been very helpful! But at the end of this article it says "the answers to these questions will help you make sense out of the diagnostic suggestions in the articles that follow." Uhhhh . . there is no list or links to 'articles that follow'. Help! ;-))
I bought my house 3 years ago; long-story short - never got much of a septic inspection. Was told my drain field was in the back yard; which is where the tank is. Well My neighbor and I were detecting sewage odors this afternoon. I've traced the odor to where I have an RV parked (has been there for 3 years - tanks are empty). There are a couple of new gopher holes under the RV. Odor was very strong here; lessens when I leave the area.
I guess I have to assume this is where the drain field is but it is toward the front of the house - about 30 feet away from the front door; the tank is about 20 ft behind the house.
Would the drain field really be placed toward the front of the property? The property is level - and large - 2/3 acre; desert sand/loam. If I see no water and have no backups in the house, and no sewage odors in the house
Could the gopher holes actually be pulling odors from the drain field? Do I just need to relocate my RV and bury the new gopher holes?
How deep is a typical drain field. House was built in 1950; new tank installed about 5 years ago. Have no knowledge of the drain field components. How serious could this be?
Thanks in advance!!
Gophers can dig rather large and long holes and tunnels through ground including around and in septic drainfields. The results can include odor transmission as well as serious drainfield operating problems
Imagine a gravel-filled trench into which we send septic effluent, hoping that the wastewater will seep into the soil where aerobic and anaerobic bacteria further break down pathogens in the wastewater. That takes time and relies on water seeping through and into the soil for both disposal and treatment.
Now imagine a pesky gopher drills into the drainfield and gives a nice clear "pipe" that sends septic effluent directly downhill to daylight. The soakaway bed no longer works and both sewage effluent and odors are transported to the surface.
There can of course be other reasons for drainfield odors such as a clogged drainfield that is at end of life, or a drainfield that floods due to surface runoff. Both of those also can be a source of odors.
Septic drainfields are located on a property depending on a number of considerations: clearance distances from wells, boundaries, lakes, streams, soil conditions, space requirements. See SEPTIC DRAINFIELD LOCATION for help finding yours.
We have gopher holes at one end of our mound system field. Water flows easily out of this hole area now—especially after a morning of showers, two loads of laundry, etc. Any way for a simple repair on this?
Thanks! - B.W. 4/29/2014
Those gophers must not mind smelly water. A simple repair? I'm not sure. One needs to remove and discourage the gophers, then fill in completely their burrows. Otherwise the effluent will indeed find a quick and easy path to daylight. Hire a local animal removal service to start.
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