Idaho Gopher Control
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Civil Liability & Law

Could gophers, ground squirrels, voles or rock chucks on your land cause you liability.  The short answer is "yes."  Is there anything you can do about it?  Of course! 

I have compiled a list of cases and laws to demonstrate this.  The main take away from this is that if you have these pests and you have neighbors you have an obligation under law.  Most of the cases cited below involve canal companies and agricultural land.  However, they all demonstrate that the person or entity with the gopher problem can be held financially responsible for their failure or negligence when it comes to controlling gophers or other burrowing rodents.

Every state will have laws that relate to this.  Let's look at Idaho Laws to get an idea of what they look like:

Idaho State Code 25-2601 (translation - Title 25, Chapter 26, Section 01)
This state code is what establishes the duty of the landowner.  Basically, it states that a landowner has a duty to control gophers and ground squirrels.  As a "catch all" it also includes the term "burrowing rodents."  This will include voles and rock chucks. 

So, if your question is to whether or not you have any obligation to take action as a landowner in Idaho when these pests are present - the answer is "yes." 

Idaho State Code 25-2606 (translation - Title 25, Chapter 26, Section 06)
This state code gives the county you live in legal authority to enter your land to control these pests if you have been given notice and have refused to do anything. 

Before you say "great, let them take care of my gophers", realize that the county or state is likely to bill you for this since they can only enter your land after a process of trying to get you to clean up the gopher or other pest problem yourself. 

What about civil liability?

Let me start by saying that I am not an attorney.  However, I took the liberty of looking up some Idaho cases that involve gophers to give you an example.  Here are some very brief explanations of these cases:

Bedke vs. Pickett Ranch & Sheep Company
In this particular lawsuit part of the cause of the agricultural damage and one of the reasons cited in the lawsuit was a lack of control of gophers.  In this case gophers had chewed though a buried "poly-pipe" that was approximately three feet deep.  This caused the need for repeated repairs over the years, ultimately to a dispute between neighbors, cropland damage and a lawsuit.

Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District v. Mussell
This particular situation was caused by uncontrolled gophers repeatedly tunneling through a canal bank, leading to seepage.  What I found interesting about this case is that the landowner grew frustrated with seepage from the canal onto his land due to tunneling gophers.  So, he dug away the canal bank, which the canal company had an easement on and responsibility for. 

The landowner intented to repair the bank and stop the seepage but he did not get it done in time for irrigation season.  So, the canal company came in and fixed the canal - leaving him with a bill of over $100,000. 

What is so interesting is that nobody controlled the gophers.  Why not?  If that had been done in the first place by the canal company or the landowner then this whole issue could have been avoided at minimal expense. 

Brizendine v. Nampa Meridian Irrigation District
This is another break in a canal bank.  In this case residential property was flooded inside the City of Boise.  In the lawsuit three experts were brought in to assess the cause of the break in the canal bank.  Each of them cited gophers as either the main reason or a contributing cause. 

Johnson v. Burley Irrigation District
This appears to be very important case regarding gophers in Idaho.  It was appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court, which means the ruling applies everywhere in the state.

After gophers weakened a ditch bank it broke open and flooded out 10 acres of potatoes, ruining the crop.  The defendant in the case cited an Idaho law stating that he could not be held liable for "acts of God."  The Supreme Court ruled that the damage caused by gophers or other burrowing rodents were not considered an "act of God" because the land owner had the ability to intervene and control the problem. 

This means that a land owner cannot just throw their hands up and say "it wasn't my responsibility." 

Casey v. Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District

This case has significance for reasons other than whether or not someone could be held liable for damage caused by gophers.  In this case cropland was flooded for a different reason than gophers.  What is important is the ruling which states that the landowners were not just entitled to compensation for the damage to their crops.  They were also entitled to compensation for the damage to the land. 

In this particular case from 1963 they cited a loss in value of their land of $100/acre based on compaction and loss of fertility to the soil.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator that would be well over $700/acre in today's dollars. 
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