Originally printed in the April 16, 2003 edition of the Illinois Valley News
In 1834 an expedition arrived in Oregon from St. Louis, Missouri. It was composed of some fur trappers and clerks who were employed by Nathaniel Wyeth. He planned on getting rich by trading with the Indians for furs and supplying the trappers with their supplies. Hudson Bay Company quickly undercut his business and Wyeth did not remain long in Oregon. His 1834 expedition also contained two scientists who wanted to collect plants and animals in the region.
Thomas Nuttall was mainly a botanist who made some new discoveries such as:
Pacific Dogwood, Cornus nuttallii. His associate in the trip was John Kirk Townsend who hoped to discover new birds and mammals. Townsend was successful in both groups. Townsend’s Solitaire is a uncommon bird, but familiar to most bird watchers. Townsend’s Chipmunk was first collected at the mouth of the Willamette River. It is a familiar sight to visitors at the Oregon Caves even though its scientific name, Tamias townsendii, might not be as friendly. Townsend spent the winter of 1834 -35 in Hawaii also collecting specimens. The next year he helped out as surgeon at Ft. Vancouver because he had some medical training.
On May 9, 1835 Townsend discovered a mole at Ft. Vancouver named Scapanus townsendii, better known as Townsend’s Mole. “Skapane” is a Greek word meaning digging tool, and is used because it’s a good digger. Townsend’s Mole is the largest and most common of the four kinds of moles found in Josephine County. It has a range all along the coastal part of Washington, Oregon, and northern California. It is most common in moist soil areas, especially fields, lawns, gardens, and coniferous forests.
All moles are good at digging and usually have deep tunnels, six to ten inches below the surface, which are hard to locate. They push up cone-shaped piles of dirt at intervals along the route of the tunnels. These piles have no obvious entrance, unlike gopher mounds which are fan-shaped and have an obvious entrance with a dirt plug in the hole. Moles also create surface tunnels which make raised mounds of dirt along their path which are more easy for people to locate than the deep tunnels.
Moles are mainly carnivores eating worms and beetle grubs living in the soil. On occasion a few underground tubers and roots are eaten, but this is not the main damage. Flowers and grass are damaged by pushing them into the air while the mole is making the surface tunnels. This can damage the roots by exposing them to the air and also creates air pockets around the roots of plants. Gardening experts suggest these mounds be pressed down as soon as possible to reduce damage to the plants. Most gardeners are not very tolerant of these habits and want the mole gone as quickly as possible.
A number of methods have been tried and each gardener swears that their method is best. Flooding the deep tunnels with a hose works occasionally but mostly provides exercise for the mole and deep watering for nearby plants. Attaching a garden hose to a car exhaust pipe has some success also, but moles can create dense plugs in their tunnel system. Poisons and traps are most recommended by gardening books with traps most preferred. Poison and gas bombs kill other animals as well, including pets if any pellets are left above ground or dug up later. Traps need to be placed in the deep tunnels on both sides of the cone shaped piles of dirt if the tunnels can be located. This involves a lot of digging and increases the damage to the garden or lawn. My method is to put an untouched half stick of Juicy Fruit gum in the tunnel, but that doesn’t work all the time either.