Menlo Park to reach out before
Steffens responds to residents upset about squirrel baiting
by Sandy Brundage
Here's a recipe for sparking outrage in
Menlo Park: Poison ground squirrels without telling the public. The city has
now decided that's not a recipe it wants to try again.
According to Deputy City Manager Kent Steffens, in an e-mail to one of many
residents upset about the covert poisoning of squirrels at Bedwell Bayfront
Park last August, "The City has received negative feedback from numerous
residents and Park visitors regarding the lack of public outreach prior to
hiring a contractor. The City is committed to correct this should any similar activities
be performed in the future."
The contractor, Animal Damage Management Inc., used chlorophacinone bait to
kill the squirrels. A report filed with San Mateo County indicates the
contractor applied 30 pounds of the poison at the park, although neither the
city nor the contractor would confirm that.
County agricultural commissioner Fred Crowder said the bait's toxicity is
considered relatively low. Since the label didn't indicate a need to prevent
anyone from entering the area of application for at least 24 hours, he said,
state and federal law didn't require Menlo Park to post warning signs.
"The city, having responsibility for the park, may adopt an in-house
policy as to posting when pesticides are used, but this would be
self-enforced," Mr. Crowder explained.
That may or may not help residents feel safer about the risks to their pets and
children. Mary Paglieri, founder of the Little Blue Society, a consulting group
that says it specializes in ecologically sound, humane methods of animal
population control, called the city's behavior appalling.
She pointed out that many species eat ground squirrels as food. "The
toxicity of chlorophacinone may be slightly lower than other compounds, but
when predators consume multiple squirrels that have been poisoned over a period
of time, they will die from secondary poisoning," Ms. Paglieri said.
"Poisoned squirrels will leave the burrow to forage – however, their
ability to evade predators will be compromised from this compound, making them
easier to catch and consume."
She said the risk extends to people and pets since chlorophacinone, which can
contaminate surface soil and water, is easily absorbed by the skin.
"The City was irresponsible in using this poison in the first place and
also for not alerting the park-goers about the dangers it may pose to people
and their pets," Ms. Paglieri said.
Eradicating squirrels also impacts the park ecosystem, according to Ms.
Paglieri. In addition to serving as a food source for predators, squirrels
aerate and transport soil nutrients.
The number of burrows baited at Bedwell Bayfront Park remains a mystery despite
staff saying it had been "relatively few."
Mr. Steffens told the City Council on Jan. 25 that he didn't know how many
sites were baited, but would try to find out. He also said the city had
documented that squirrels were digging through the landfill cap at the park and
dragging up trash.
However, when The Almanac asked Mr. Steffens for copies of that documentation a
week before his comment to the council, he responded that staff hadn't created
its own reports.
The deputy city manager initially attributed the rationale for poisoning the
squirrels to county inspection
reports that stated they were pulling out litter.
But The Almanac found that none of the inspection reports made that connection.
The county's director of environmental health, Dean Peterson, said there was no
evidence of squirrels carrying garbage to the surface.