While live trapping can be an effective management tool, it does involve euthanizing and disposing of live animals once they are caught. Squirrels must be euthanized once they are captured; translocation away from the site of capture is against California Fish and Game Code.
According to California law, traps must be checked on a daily basis. However, trapped animals should not be left in traps unattended to the extent that they are stressed from heat or lack of food and water; if live traps are checked only once per day, they should be in shaded locations to minimize stress to captured animals.
Traps can be moved to another location after a few days/captures. Do not leave traps set between dusk and dawn. This will help reduce the chance of trapping nocturnal animals.
Note to homeowners: Despite the need to euthanize live-trapped ground squirrels, live trapping may be preferable in residential areas because it allows nontarget captures to be released from the traps unharmed.
As with kill traps, live traps are more effective if they are pre-baited. This allows squirrels to become used to taking food from the traps. The goal of an effective live trapping program is to capture most of the individuals in the population in as few days as possible. This requires placing many traps at once.
To pre-bait, leave the doors of the trap tied open to allow the squirrels to freely enter and exit. After ground squirrels readily consume the bait in the traps (often around 2-3 days, but it can be longer), re-bait and set traps.
Multiple-capture ground squirrel traps also benefit from pre-baiting.
Selecting a Bait
Select a bait based on what the ground squirrels prefer in a given area and season. Bait must be equally or more attractive than what the squirrels are currently feeding on. Suitable options include: walnuts, almonds, slices of orange or melon, wheat, barley, plain rolled oat groats, peanut butter, garden greens, a mix of molasses and whole dry corn, ears of corn, or sweet feed for cattle or horses.
A standard live trap for ground squirrels is approximately 24"L x 5"W x 5"H. Place traps near burrows or in runways, but not directly in front of burrows. Squirrels forage for food and will be more likely to enter baited traps if they are set several feet from the burrow entrance. Stake the trap to the ground or other solid object to prevent scavengers from carrying the traps away.
Both single and multiple-capture live traps should be set as flat as possible, close to ground squirrel burrow entrances. If there are multiple burrow openings, the trap can be set in the middle of the group of burrow entrances. In soft or loose dirt, move the trap back and forth to settle the trap in the ground, just enough to cover part of the wire. Clear away any obstructions (e.g. small rocks, twigs, grass) that may keep the spring-loaded doors from working properly.