Health Canada to ban use of strychnine to kill prairie gophers

Health Canada is moving forward with a ban on using the deadly pesticide strychnine to kill prairie gophers.

People opposed to decision have 60 days to provide science-based objection

Health Canada is moving forward with a ban on the use of the deadly pesticide strychnine to kill gophers. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Health Canada is moving forward with a ban on using the deadly pesticide strychnine to kill prairie gophers.

The Health Canada website said an evaluation of scientific information confirms there are risks to other animals, including species at risk, for products registered to control Richardson's ground squirrels, also known as prairie gophers.

In 2018, Health Canada cited concerns about animals including the swift fox and the burrowing owl in its proposal.

Gophers, which burrow underground, can damage crops and their burrows can injure livestock.

Health Canada said it made the decision after reviewing comments from agriculture groups, governments, environmental groups and members of the general public.

The governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan expressed concerns about a ban and groups including the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities opposed it.

"Based on the evaluation of currently available scientific information, Health Canada has concluded that the environmental risks associated with the use of strychnine and its associated end-use product to control Richardson's ground squirrels were not shown to be acceptable when this product is used according to the label directions and required mitigation measures," the Health Canada decision said.

"Under the authority of the Pest Control Products Act, Health Canada is cancelling strychnine used to control Richardson's ground squirrels."

In 2018, Alberta Agriculture said producers were worried about the financial implications of a ban because strychnine is the only effective tool for controlling gophers.

The department noted that Alberta has about 24 million seeded acres of crop each year with an estimate of $5 billion of production value.

"Richardson ground squirrel populations have the potential to explode in the absence of viable control options. This could result in huge financial impacts to agricultural producers," a government spokeswoman said at the time.

The Saskatchewan government said when used according to the label, strychnine is the most efficient and effective control measure for Richardson's ground squirrels and has limited environmental effect.   

The cattlemen's association had said that the regulated use of liquid strychnine should continue because it is an effective tool and there is no practical alternative.

Health Canada plans to phase out strychnine products used for gopher control.

People who are against the decision have 60 days to file an objection, which must be based on scientific grounds.