When the enemy is too cute for words

Gophers are a serious problem, which warrants serious coverage. However, every once in a while a freelance photographer sends us photographs of the irksome creatures, usually in the spring and always looking adorable. We can’t seem to resist, and into the paper they go. | Sandy Black photo

A newspaper like The Western Producer never wants to glorify a farm pest, but sometimes we just can’t seem to help ourselves.

I’m talking about the Richardson’s ground squirrel, more commonly known as the pesky gopher.

These rodents are not the farmer’s friend, causing significant damage to hay, pasture and cropland.

It’s been a serious issue for us to cover at the paper, particularly when a government decides to restrict the use of a poison to control the varmints.

That’s what’s happening right now. Last year, the federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency angered farmers when it announced it was phasing out use of two percent liquid strychnine to control gophers by 2023.

Groups such as the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities and the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association vowed to fight the move.

So gophers are a serious problem, which warrants serious coverage.

However, every once in a while a freelance photographer sends us photographs of the irksome creatures, usually in the spring and always looking adorable. We can’t seem to resist, and into the paper they go.

The most recent examples can be found on page 48 of the May 6 issue. Sandy Black, a photographer from Brandon, had sent a selection of pictures he had taken of gophers gambolling about in the snow that fell over much of Manitoba and parts of Saskatchewan in mid-April.

Like I said, even though I know in my head how damaging these fellows can be, I’m still a sucker for a cute gopher photo.

I wonder if any of the thousands of children who headed into the fields of Saskatchewan on May 1, 1917, to wage war on the gopher thought their victims were cute?

As historian Bill Waiser recently wrote in the Globe and Mail about the province’s first official Gopher Day, the children were trying to kill as many of the critters as possible while doing their patriotic duty. Gophers were destroying 250,000 acres of crop a year, and one of Canada’s roles in the First World War was to provide the allies with food.

So the gophers had to die, and die they did. According to Waiser, 500,000 of them were dispatched in a single day.

The Producer wasn’t publishing in 1917. If it had, I wonder if it would have published cute gopher photos?

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