A Vole-atile Yard Pest Situation

Vole photo from WSU.edu.

It’s about six inches long. The fur is short, and the color is gray to very dark brown, with a light-colored belly. It has small eyes, a short tail, and protruding ears. Its most distinctive characteristic, however, is that it creates raised tubes on the ground surface, marking its underground raceways. What is it? It’s the Oregon Vole (also called the Creeping Vole – or Microtus oregoni, if you want to get scientific), and it has covertly flourished under Central Oregon’s abundant snow cover this winter.

Besides turning a lovely yard into a serpentine raised-tube rodent speedway, there are additional reasons these furry little creatures are considered pests. The Oregon vole is almost entirely subterranean, meaning that they spend most of their time below ground in their grass-lined burrows eating the roots, tubers and bulbs of your plants. They also cause distinctive damage to shrubs and conifer seedlings less than 2” in diameter: they remove the bark from ground level to about 5” up the stem, their small teeth leaving a fuzzy appearance.

To identify vole problems early, High Desert Ranch & Home recommends searching for vole activity in your yard once in the early Spring and again in the Fall.  Move back mulch, snow, thick vegetation, ornamental lawn items, or debris that voles may be hiding under, and look for raceways and burrow entrance holes. Entrance holes (which do not have mounds – moles leave mounds, but voles do not) are usually the most active areas for voles, so these are the areas to concentrate on when attempting to eradicate a confirmed vole problem.

There are several treatment options for ridding your yard of voles:

  1. Remove the voles’ protective cover (thick mulch, ground cover, yard debris, etc.). This will expose the voles to predators, which will at least reduce their numbers. A “cleaner” yard will also make your yard less desirable to voles and help avoid reoccurring problems.
  2. Repel voles using natural clay granules impregnated with castor oil. Brands we carry at High Desert Ranch & Home include: MoleMax Mole & Vole Repellent 10 lb, and Repellex 7 lb and 24 lb. Another natural repellent we carry is Uncle Ian’s Mole & Gopher, Deer, Rabbit & Squirrel Repellent, which uses dried blood as the active ingredient. (Don’t use repellents on garden plants.)
  3. Use wire mesh garden fencing to keep voles out, making sure to bury it several inches under the ground to block the voles’ tunnels. Also place it around garden plants to protect their roots against voles, and wrap it around the base of young trees in the winter to protect the bark from voles.
  4. Set live traps – but realize you will still have to get rid of live voles after you’ve trapped them.
  5. Extermination solutions include placing poison baits or rodenticides (we like Tomcat with Bromethalin for speed of kill, either Meal Bait or Ground Squirrel Bait) or mouse snap traps (with a dab of peanut butter) in or at burrow entrance holes. Of course, these methods can be dangerous for other wildlife, children and pets so take precautions to minimize risks when using extermination approaches.

Please note that vole activity may increase during the first seven days of treatment; that means the treatment is working and voles are scrambling to leave the area! Do you have a vole story, or recommend a method of preventing, repelling or exterminating voles? If so, please share your comments!

Vole raised tube raceways, repellents and rodenticide.