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Good call by City Council on gophers

Gotta get those gophers.

The Santa Fe City Council last week approved a $75,000 contract with an outfit called Gopher Guys, LCC, to remove gophers from city parks and other municipal property.

Two city councilors, and some local citizens, objected. The Gopher Guys will use snap traps, much like mouse traps, that are designed to break the pocket gophers’ necks.

Councilor Signe Lindell, whose advocacy for animal protection led to passage of an ordinance banning exotic animal acts like those in circuses, was a ‘no’ vote on the contract.

“I couldn’t possibly put my name on a contract that has to do with trapping,” she said, adding that the practice was cruel.

She said she was disappointed that city officials hadn’t explored the possible option of catching and then relocating the critters, like the city does with prairie dogs, who have explicit protections under city law.

Lindell is among Santa Fe’s best city leaders, and her concern for animal welfare is commendable and an important part of our community discourse.

But in this case, human welfare – say, the fate of Little League left fielders or kids just chasing each other around in a park – trumps the fate of the pesky gophers. And the snap traps seem like the best way to deal with the damage they cause.

Richard Thompson, the city’s parks and recreation division director, said the city used to deal with the pocket gopher problem by gassing them with carbon monoxide, then collapsing the burrows. But that left open the possibility some of the animals would be buried alive. He said mechanical trapping devices are a more humane way to eliminate the gopher than gassing them.

Thompson referred to gopher holes as “leg breakers.”

“We don’t mind the rodents occupying the open space,” he said, including prairie dogs in his statement. “But on competitive sports fields, we have to protect the people that use them.”

We Santa Feans love our prairie dogs – they live in organized social groups that we like to call villages and scientists think they may talk, more or less. And they’re just cute.

It may be splitting hairs, or at least species, among burrowing rodents for the city to relocate prairie dogs while exterminating gophers. But lines have to get drawn somewhere – rats are rodents and God’s creatures, too, and you have to get rid of them.

“It really comes down to a difficult choice between protecting children and adults playing on these fields or allowing the rodents to reside in peace,” Thompson said. “Life is a series of tough choices. We’ve chosen to protect the children who play in the parks from those hidden dangers of underground burrows.”

That’s about as good as it can be said. The City Council made the right choice.

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