Thursday, February 20, 2014

Berkeley, California Planning Mass Execution of Squirrels

The city of Berkeley, California is known as a center of tolerance and compassion, but a recent proposal by the city government goes against that image. The city is planning the mass extermination of ground squirrels and gophers in Cesar Chavez park. The park, which overlooks the San Francisco Bay, is built over a reclaimed landfill, and city officials are concerned that the burrowing squirrels might release dangerous toxic chemicals that could spill into the bay. So the city has hired an extermination company to trap and kill many, though not all, of the squirrels and gophers that inhabit the park.

California ground squirrel

As described in this story about the impending slaughter, when the park was built, the landfill was enclosed by layers of clay underneath, on the sides, and on top. The top layer of clay was covered with a layer of topsoil, which is what the squirrels and gophers have been digging into. As of yet, there has not been a problem with the rodents penetrating the clay that protects the landfill. But apparently, as the population of squirrels has increased, city officials have grown concerned that they might burrow right through the clay. If this happens, chemicals that are no doubt contained in the landfull could spill into the nearby bay.

The potential problem has been exarcebated by human visitors to the park who ignore signs warning them not to feed the squirrels, further increasing the population of the animals. The squirrels and gophers cannot be relocated as this would violate state laws that prohibit the relocation of any wild animals. Berkeley officials say that they have tried less extreme measures such as luring birds of prey into the park by providing nesting boxes and perches, but this did not help. And poisoning is not an option because it would affect other species.

There can be no doubt that protecting the San Francisco Bay from pollution has to be a priority, but the articles that I have read about this issue raise a number of bothersome questions. Is it not possible to upgrade the barrier that surrounds the landfill, perhaps by increasing the thickness of the clay cap or adding another material to enclose it? Is the extermination of the squirrels and gophers to go on indefinitely, and at what cost? Surely park officials are aware that any individuals killed will be quickly replaced by others that move in from the surrounding area and by breeding.

There are several other waterfront parks in the area that are also built over landfills, that also have large populations of ground squirrels, but for some reason at the other parks the potential release of toxins is not considered a problem. What makes conditions at the other parks so different? It seems to me that the Berkeley city officials need to more fully explain why this drastic measure is necessary, and investigate more fully what other steps could be taken short of killing potentially thousands of animals.

If the problem here really is the result of humans feeding the squirrels, then maybe the land in question should be closed off and turned into a wildlife preserve instead of a public park.

Update: I've put a link below to a petition that has been created to stop this drastic and cruel measure. Please click below to view and consider signing the petition!

1 comment:

  1. Having moved from California to Michigan I have often appreciated CA's liberalism as compared to Michigan. However, I can't imagine such measures being done in Michigan. Send the little furries our way - we keep the MANY in our wooded back yard fat and sassy with peanuts and love them to pieces. We have been feeling that San Francisco is a city that's lost its soul lately, sorry to see Berkeley has as well.