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Berkeley nixes plan to exterminate ground squirrels

by on March 28, 2014

California ground squirrel at Cesar Chavez Park, Berkeley. Photo: Bill Williams/Flickr.
California ground squirrel at Cesar Chavez Park, Berkeley. Photo: Bill Williams/Flickr.

Much to the relief of wildlife lovers, the Berkeley City Council voted Tuesday night to delay its pilot program to exterminate ground squirrels at César Chávez Park.

The city had generated broad outcry earlier this year when it announced plans to trap and kill park squirrels as a means to address Regional Water Quality Control Board concerns that squirrel burrows might cause toxics underneath the park to leach into the bay.

But on Tuesday, the Council put the extermination plan on hold and directed the City Manager to report back in two months with a plan and a response to the many questions raised by citizens, councilmembers, and environmental and animal rights organizations, including Golden Gate Audubon.

Councilman Kriss Worthington led the efforts for a reconsideration of the extermination pilot program and Councilwoman Linda Maio was careful to stress that the pilot program would not go forward until the council had revisited the issue. Councilman Max Anderson waxed poetic about how the park used to be filled with raptors, the squirrels’ natural predators, and recommended that there be an effort to draw these birds back to the park, while Councilman Gordon Wozniak complained that there are too many squirrels.

The squirrel extermination scheme was crafted as a response to concerns by the Regional Water Quality Control Board that squirrel burrows could be allowing toxics to leach into the Bay. César Chávez Park is built on top of a landfill that was covered with layers of fill intended to “cap” the old dump’s solid and toxic waste. Although the bay waters surrounding the park have not tested positive for any leached materials, the Board did direct the city to address the potential risk from squirrel burrows.

The Water Board was careful to distance itself from the city’s extermination plan, though, instead suggesting that enforcement of the no-feeding ordinance may be sufficient to address the large squirrel population. The Board recently issued a FAQ that clearly states “we are not ordering the City to kill the squirrels” and requested that the city supply further data on the burrows and methods of control.

Golden Gate Audubon’s East Bay Conservation Committee researched the issue, submitted a comment letter to the Berkeley City Council, and spoke at Tuesday’s Council meeting. GGAS called for collection of further data, strict enforcement of the city’s existing no-feed ordinance, vegetation modification to create habitat less desirable to squirrels, increased efforts to encourage natural predation, and consideration of squirrel contraceptives as alternatives to trap and kill. (Although there are signs at the park asking people not to feed the animals, the message is frequently ignored, and the birdseed and peanuts that are provided for the squirrels causes overpopulation.)

GGAS opposed the extermination plan as part of its commitment to protect California native wildlife. The squirrels form an essential part of the natural environment, serve as  an important food source for large raptors and snakes, and create burrows that are essential for Western Burrowing Owls that winter at César Chávez Park.

Continue reading on Golden Gate Birder, the website of the Golden Gate Audubon, where this article first appeared.

April Rose Sommer practices environmental law at her firm Sommer Public Interest Law, and advocates for birds and habitat protection on the GGAS Conservation Committee.

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Bev Von Dohre on March 31st, 2014 at 9:17 pm

This was a relief for so many of us. I started a petition and was impressed with how much people care.


It seemed they were going to spend $100,000 on poisoning the squirrels and gophers, and the man they were planning to hire is convicted of a felony for shooting someone and is known to have trapped and killed people’s pets.

I kept suspecting kickbacks were involved. The East Bay Regional Parks are also poisoning the native California Ground Squirrels at Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline, which will kill raptors and many other animals. There is no excuse of toxic landfill leaking. When I asked the man in charge why they were doing this (which we are all paying for), his only response was “Have you seen the movie ‘Willard’?” A ridiculous horror movie about rats is actually their reason for killing these sweet animals who have language?

What’s particularly sad about killing a social animal like Ground Squirrels is that they grieve deeply enough to die if someone they love dies.

People need to know this is happening and demand it be stopped. I’m guessing it’s going on elsewhere too.

News Roundup – Parks, Lectures, Water and More | Redwood Planet Media on April 4th, 2014 at 3:03 pm

[…] around Humboldt Bay. On the San Francisco Bay, the city of Berkeley has withdrawn its plans to trap and exterminate ground squirrels at the Berkeley Marina. The marina’s Caesar Chávez Park lies on top of a capped landfill, […]

Javier Fernandez on May 28th, 2014 at 10:55 pm

I have been a regular visitor of the Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley Marina for the last 10 years or so. I agree that the ground squirrels, which are lovely animals, have reached the point of overpopulation in the park. I have read that the Berkeley City Council had decided to kill all of the rodents but, afterwards the plan wast postponed. However, this year you cannot see a single squirrel in the area. What eventually happened to the rodents?

Hank on August 3rd, 2014 at 2:01 pm

The California Ground squirrel is the number one vector for Bubonic plague in California. The Fleas can transfer to your dog and make you sick at home. If this disease gets into these vermin I suspect there will be change of heart.

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