CERRITOS — Scores of gophers recently received unexpected eviction notices in this town.
And the prospects of relocating elsewhere in Cerritos are not promising for the furry critters because the City Council has approved a plan to expand its gopher eradication efforts by dropping chemical pellets into their burrows.
In an effort to drive out the underground tenants, the council last week agreed to spend up to $45,000 to control the gopher infestation, which one county agricultural inspector described as the worst in recent memory.
"In my 24 years with the county, I've never seen so many gophers in one place," said Richard Wightman, a Los Angeles County agricultural inspector who is coordinating the gopher attack in Cerritos.
Earlier this month, the city turned to the county for help when residents around the vacant Towne Center site at 183rd Street and Bloomfield Avenue began grousing about gophers popping up in their yards. The rodents, city officials say, were coming from the 125-acre plot of dirt as bulldozers graded and weeded the land for office and hotel construction this summer.
At first, city crews tried to trap the gophers, but the effort proved futile because of the size of the gopher population.
"We only had so many traps," city spokesman Michele Ogle said. " . . . They outnumbered us."
So Wightman opted for chemical warfare.
Two weeks ago, his crews began placing aluminum phosphide pellets into gopher holes around the Towne Center site. The pellets release an asphyxiating gas when inserted into the burrows and the holes are sealed. The animals die within an hour or two, but Wightman said the gophers experience no pain. Once the chemical evaporates, he said there is no lingering gas to harm humans or pets.
Although it is too soon to tell if Wightman's tactics have been successful, the council is clearly in an offensive mood when it comes to gophers.
The city has spent $10,000 to combat the gophers so far, and last Thursday the council authorized the expenditure of $35,000 more to expand its pellet plan to other parts of the city where gophers have been sighted in large numbers, including Liberty, Reservoir Hill and Rainbow parks.
Conditions are ideal in Cerritos for gophers, Wightman said. Gophers have voracious appetites, particularly when the fare is fresh flowers. In a city with 21 parks and 17 miles of landscaped street medians, local gophers rarely go hungry.
"I've stood and watched them across from City Hall literally mow down a hibiscus plant in seconds flat," Wightman said. "And because there are so many, they've gotten very bold, coming out in broad daylight to do their damage."
Not Carriers of Disease
The mild, relatively dry winter, Wightman said, has contributed to the gopher explosion. In wet years, older and weaker gophers rarely survive because food supplies and burrows are washed away.
Unlike squirrels or rats, gophers are not considered disease carriers and therefore pose no serious threat to humans, the inspector said. Basically loners, gophers avoid contact with other animals or humans.
But it is not hard to tell when they have settled in the neighborhood. Mounds of freshly-turned dirt near a flower bed are a sure sign that gophers are around, Wightman said.
While gophers are not new to Cerritos, the numbers this year prompted dozens of residents to call City Hall and complain. Said city spokesman Ogle: "It's been one call after another . . . We sure hope this ends soon."