Cambrian: Sports

Will owls, gas kill gophers in Coast Union fields?

Mounds of dirt, a telltale sign of gophers, dot Coast Union High School's athletic fields.
Mounds of dirt, a telltale sign of gophers, dot Coast Union High School's athletic fields. Special to The Cambrian

On Saturday morning, July 11, about 10 a.m., Clark Pest Control technician Andy Villalobos was busy inserting narrow steel tubes into the ground around the backstop area on the Coast Union baseball field. The tubes were attached to long plastic hoses connected to his company truck’s exhaust pipe, with the engine running.

It was clear that he was doing the same thing that he was doing when The Cambrian interviewed him in November 2014 — and, under contract with the school district, has continued pumping carbon monoxide (produced by his company truck) into gopher tunnels on a weekly basis.

For many years, student-athletes have been negatively impacted (and sometimes injured) tripping on those ubiquitous gopher mounds (or stepping into gopher holes). Hence, the Coast Unified School District has made efforts to rid the playing fields of this menace.

In the November interview, Villalobos called the carbon monoxide approach “environmentally friendly”; his company’s website refers to its carbon monoxide efforts as “integrated pest management.” He added that the carbon monoxide “fills the entire tunnel with gas, and once the gophers have gone to sleep and perished, the gas dissipates under the ground.”

When he was alerted Saturday morning to a recently installed white barn owl box — on its 17-foot-high steel pole near the ball field — he said he wasn’t aware that owls are being enlisted in the battle against gophers. He also said his supervisor had asked him not to speak with reporters.

Meanwhile, on Monday, July 13, a quick survey of the Coast Union baseball field showed more than 20 recently carved out gopher piles, mostly in the outfield. Bronco head baseball coach Brian Machado said that the Clark carbon monoxide applications had recently been showing some results.

But based on the many new gopher holes in the outfield, he wonders whether perhaps pumping poison gas into ground around the home plate area has driven the gophers into the outfield area.

Meanwhile, the barn owl boxes — which box builder Gary Grohman said would have owls in them after one week — have been in place for about three weeks. So it will be interesting to see how effective the raptors will be at killing gophers not just on the baseball field, but on the practice fields, the football field, the softball field and the baseball field used by Little League teams near Leffingwell High School.

“I just hope the owls and the gas works so we can have a decent playing field for baseball,” Machado said.