This morning I was alerted to a sad recent development at a local park by Peter J. Metropulos, a fellow participant in a local wild bird discussion email list. Based on a recent article in the Almanac (a local newspaper), last August, the city of Menlo Park contracted with an exterminator to kill off the ground squirrels at Bedwell Bayfront Park, which is situated along the San Francisco Bay. The worry was that a growing squirrel population would eventually dig though the cap that covered the landfill on which the park was built, and drag garbage to the surface. Upon being notified of this issue, the city counsel conducted their own investigation, and determined that the squirrel population needed to be reduced.
Metropulos raised the following concerns in his email. “The tiny bit of undeveloped bay land habitat that remains in San Mateo County is under a constant threat of destruction. One of the precious few bits left is Bayfront Park. This was perhaps our last opportunity to provide a place for Burrowing Owls to re-colonize (they rely on ground squirrel burrows for nesting). Now with the squirrels gone that hope is gone as well.
“The California Ground Squirrel is a native mammal, not an introduced vermin like the roof rat, and it is an important component of our local ecosystem. In addition, having our own local ‘prairie dog’ colony has provided an easily-observable wildlife experience for the general public. People like watching the busy little critters running around. Local residents have been robbed of a part of their natural history.”
Now I’m not arguing that this type of action is never appropriate (although I do know which side of the argument my bias would land me on). But at the very least, before a decision like this is made, we must have careful, thorough scientific study, and input from local citizens. Before mid-level politicians decide to “play God” by poisoning a population of local wildlife, we need to consider the effects. How will this impact the food chain within which the ground squirrels are an integral part? What about all the birds of prey that feed on them? What about the dwindling burrowing owl population that relies on the ground squirrels to excavate their homes?
As a wildlife photographer, I can’t help but have a respect and care for the creatures that grace me with their presence. It saddens me any time I see people meddling in nature, especially when it looks like was done with little thought about the wider implications. I really hope that is not the case here.
I think the worst part of this entire situation is the fact that the public was not notified of the burrow poisoning before it was conducted. I hope that the Menlo Park city counsel releases details of their “own investigation” to the public. I also pray that the probable impacts on other species was taken into account before they concluded that poisoning a native species was the best course of action.
Unfortunately, it appears that this event was not treated with the care that it deserves. The article concludes, “[Deputy City Manager Kent Steffens] said he didn’t know how many burrows were baited with poison, or how many squirrels died as a result. Neither did a representative from [the extermination contractor] Animal Damage Management, who said the technician who carried out the contract was on vacation.”