Menlo Park to reach out before poisoning again

Steffens responds to residents upset about squirrel baiting

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," 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," 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," Paglieri said.

Eradicating squirrels also impacts the park ecosystem, according to Paglieri. In addition to serving as a food source for predators, squirrels also 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."

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 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.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Does Palo Alto poison squirrels too?

Like this comment
Posted by Bad Practice
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 10, 2011 at 10:33 am

This is a VERY bad practice, and shouldn't be done at all! There are better ways, as indicated by others. Menlo Park allows this, and also allows duck hunting along the side of the park. Nice message for kids - subject the squirrels to a prolonged and agonizing death, and watch some hunter shoot down the birds just a short distance from a sign that says "Wildlife Sanctuary". I was amazed to be walking there a few days back - seeing someone only about 40 yards from me shooting at ducks. He was on the other side of the tidewater, but who cares? Still not fun to watch when I was expected a peaceful walk. Is this really supposed to be a park? If so, Menlo Park needs to treat it like one.

Like this comment
Posted by Incredulous
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2011 at 10:47 am

The use of poison to control ground squirrels in populated areas such as Menlo Park raises legitimate questions about how children and pets may be affected, and the City should address those questions honestly and openly. For the same reason, such measures should be carefully monitored by credible outside experts. But if the Little Blue Society is under the illusion that hugely destructive ground squirrel colonies "aerate [park ecosystems] and transport soil nutrients," it should not have been given a platform for its stunning ignorance by Palo Alto Online, much less be heeded by the City of Menlo Park.

Like this comment
Posted by Gophers, right?
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 10, 2011 at 10:55 am

Ground squirrels are better known as gophers, are they not?

Like this comment
Posted by NotSoIgnorant
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2011 at 10:59 am

Multiple published scientific studies document that ground squirrels, like other burrowing animals, aerate the soil.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 10, 2011 at 11:16 am

Nice. Murder squirrels.

Like this comment
Posted by Elidia
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 10, 2011 at 11:29 am

This is NOT a joke. Poisoning animals to leave their habitats because humans want to be able to walk/jog/run without having to see a squirrel because there are too many to count...RIDICULOUS!!! Menlo Park prides itself on its oak trees, but yet Council Members want to eradicate the eco-system they strive in. I'm definitely enraged.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve C
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Wonder if there is a connection here with a number of dogs frequenting a popular local school field area after hours? Many of these pets have contracted different cancers and related problems. These contractors simply cannot be trusted to apply these poisons appropriately. It's their livelihood, after all.

Like this comment
Posted by yuck
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 10, 2011 at 1:14 pm

i hate squirrels. Glad to see them being dealt with.

Like this comment
Posted by inga
a resident of Triple El
on Feb 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Hurray for Menlo Park.

Like this comment
Posted by Incredulous
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Per Rex E. Marsh, Specialist in Vertebrate Ecology (retired), Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Conservation Biology, University of California Davis:

[elipses and brackets denote where references to other ground squirrel species are deleted]

"The California ground squirrels....will consume eggs of small ground-nesting birds, such as quail....[They are] considered serious agricultural pests where they are found in moderate to high densities adjacent to susceptible crops or home gardens.

[California ground squirrels are] implicated in the transmission of certain diseases to people, notably plague....

Their burrowing activities, particularly those of the California and Belding ground squirrels, weaken levees, ditch banks, and earthen dams, and undermine roadways and buildings. Burrows can also result in loss of irrigation water by unwanted diversions, and in natural habitats they may cause accelerated soil erosion by channelling rain or snow runoff.

Burrow entrances in school playgrounds, parks, and other recreational areas are responsible for debilitating falls, occasionally resulting in sprained or broken ankles or limbs. Burrows in horse exercising or jumping arenas or on equestrian trails can cause serious injuries to horses and to their riders if thrown.

The California ground squirrel, where numerous, significantly depletes the forage for livestock, reducing carrying capacity on rangeland as well as irrigated pasture land. All grains, and a wide variety of other crops, are consumed in agricultural regions by this opportunistic feeder. Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, apples, apricots, peaches, prunes, oranges, tomatoes, and alfalfa are subject to extensive damage. Certain vegetables and field crops such as sugar beets, beans, and peas are taken at the seedling stage, and orchard trees are sometimes injured by bark gnawing."

Like this comment
Posted by Carlito Ways
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Mrs Mary Pagliery aka"the squirrel consultant", could you please come over to my place and take all the rats with long tails(squirrels) to your place, I believe you will find solace in saving such annoying pest but make sure to have plenty of food for them.

For the last 3 years, they been raiding my fruit trees, all the care I put for them to give plentiful crop goes to the benefit of your lovely squirrels, without me being able to savor the fruits of my labor.

Mrs Pagliery if you talk the talk, you should walk the walk, without expecting any monetary reward for it.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Our neighbor from China traps squirrels in a cage with bait, and then immerses the cage in a large ice cooler filled with water.

My elementary school children were with me when he demonstrated this to us, and we left horrified.

I thought he was going to show us that he takes them to Stanford lands or somewhere else.

People have different values. We happen to be animal lovers.

In other parts of the U.S. some people hunt squirrels for food.
I don't have a problem with this since they are being used for private consumption. There are numerous recipes for squirrel stew.

I realize that squirrels (and many animals) consume fruit and vegetable gardens. They need to eat. A protective cage surround on our little raised vegetable bed keeps both birds and squirrels away from our tomatoes, chilies, pumpkins, etc.

Like this comment
Posted by Noel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 10, 2011 at 10:42 pm

If Americans spent as much time protesting to our elected officials about supporting corrupt dictatorships as we do about killing small animals and cutting down trees, Egypt would have had democracy decades ago.

Like this comment
Posted by Ladrome
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2011 at 8:22 am

Ladrome is a registered user.

This is totally disgusting and morally wrong!

P.S. I agree with Noel...

Like this comment
Posted by Richard Wells
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2011 at 10:45 am

I live in Las Vegas and just saw the headline and thought it was an interestingly BAD way to treat the squirrels. Are there THAT many squirrels that you need to kill some of them with poison? You put a park on top of a DUMP and put so little dirt on top of it that the squirrels are bringing trash up to ground level???

Like this comment
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 16, 2011 at 10:54 pm

That cruel and wrong. This is their home, too and surely we are bright enough to learn how to share it with them.

Like this comment
Posted by animallover
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2011 at 2:04 pm

I actually like squirells, they are quite imaginiative, intelligent, excellent jumpers, and are a creature that should still be allowed to live in our spaces. IF there is an area that is way over the top of the amount of squirrels, perhaps some trapping should be done first, and then IF truly needed, limited poisoning, but ONLY in a way that other wild animals and pets can't get injured or it's quite tricky. I'd rather have the creatures than not.
I see NO squirrels today at all!
There is a dying squirrel in our garbage/recycling area today!!! Such an ugly way to die!!

Like this comment
Posted by NoWay
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm

NO creature should be drowned!!! That is an horrific way to die. SICK in the mind people would only do that to a creature.
We all have to share the land, and the beauty....some of it fails, some win, but we must not decimate a creature that has a right to live in our environment.
NoWay should anyone act to drown a creature!!!!!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

After experiencing harassment, owner of Zareen's restaurants speaks out about Islamophobia, racism
By Elena Kadvany | 28 comments | 7,202 views

Don't Miss Your Exit (and other lessons from an EV drive)
By Sherry Listgarten | 14 comments | 2,394 views

Goodbye Food Waste!
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 2,306 views

Premarital and Couples: Tips for Hearing (Listening) and Being Known
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 839 views

Is racism also a local problem?
By Diana Diamond | 24 comments | 631 views


Register today!

‚ÄčOn Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More