School district fires contractor after trapped ground squirrels die | July 23, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 23, 2021

School district fires contractor after trapped ground squirrels die

Cages were set up to prevent injuries on Gunn High's playing fields

by Sue Dremann

The Palo Alto Unified School District terminated its contract with a pest control company on July 14 after ground squirrels that it trapped were recently found languishing in so-called live or humane traps. One of the animals died in the trap and a second was later euthanized, said Cody Macartney, Palo Alto's lead animal control officer.

Barron Park residents walking their dogs at Gunn High School on July 11 spotted the traps in the baseball field. Dozens of residents contacted the school, Palo Alto Unified and the city's Animal Control Division to complain.

One of those residents was Jenny Kiratli, who was walking her dog that Sunday evening at about 6:30 p.m. when she noticed several dogs were standing along the fence surrounding the ballfield. When her dog pulled her to the fence, Kiratli said she saw the partially covered trap in the field. With the gate to the field locked, she spoke with another dog walker who saw movement inside the trap and said the animal had been there for at least a couple of days.

"This is not OK," Kiratli said. "There are ground squirrels everywhere. Trapping a handful seems futile."

Macartney said that animal control officers are investigating the situation. The division filed a report with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which issues trapping permits. A Fish and Wildlife spokesperson said the department doesn't comment on ongoing investigations.

Animal-trapping contractors under California law are supposed to check the traps, which are wire cages that don't snare the animal's leg, at least every 24 hours, Macartney said.

For-profit businesses must be permitted by the state and are regulated as to how they can trap and euthanize the animals. State law also requires trapped animals to be killed by shooting or lethal injection. In many jurisdictions, discharging a firearm is illegal, so shooting is not an option, he added.

"The law requires the trapper to immediately release the animal or euthanize it on site," he said.

Macartney said he hasn't ruled out citing the contractor. The recent incident is the third time animal control officers have been called out to Gunn to investigate in the last two years, he said. Animal Control has been in talks with the school district to get it to comply with the law, he added.

Carolyn Chow, Palo Alto Unified's chief business officer, said the district has terminated its arrangement with Advanced IPM, which has an office in San Jose.

"Clearly, there was a misstep there," she said.

The district had contacted Advanced IPM to understand what checks and balances the company has in place and how they monitor the traps.

Chow said the ground squirrels dig in the playing fields, and several students and coaches have broken or sprained ankles after falling into the holes. The district hired the contractor to trap the animals at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools for five days each month. The traps are supposed to be checked daily, she said.

The district has been inundated with calls from residents since July 12, the day after the animals were discovered, she added.

In a July 16 email to the Weekly, Advanced IPM provided a statement that didn't explain what happened at Gunn.

"We strive to serve our community with excellence by following local, county and state guidelines and regulations, and we care deeply about our environment and ecosystem. In fact, we met with a local Palo Alto animal control officer to get their advice and counsel on the best approach to this issue. We take great pride in helping to protect students, staff and the community that enjoys the Gunn campus," the company said in the statement.

"The natural habit of this pest species is to dig extensive burrow systems that damage fields and landscape areas. Left unchecked, these burrows can be so extensive that they undermine the structural integrity of foundations and buildings," the company stated.

In large numbers, the rodents can also be vectors for some flea-borne diseases.

Advanced IPM is accepting comments by email at [email protected]

Macartney said the ground squirrels were nowhere near any buildings and that it would take many animals at least a year to damage any buildings in the way the company has stated. While it is possible to transfer diseases to humans from their fleas, that's also the case with any kind of animal that has fleas and there would likely need to be many animals in a given area. That isn't the case at Gunn.

Palo Alto Animal Control prefers using deterrents, such as adding plants that have a smell that the animals don't like, instead of trapping and euthanization, he said. The squirrels live near a creek and the surrounding rural area is their home. The high school will never get rid of all of them.

"Trapping animals is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Trapping just creates a void. There are better alternatives," he said, noting that the district and the public can contact the Santa Clara County Vector Control District for assistance.

Chow said she doesn't know what other methods might be used as deterrents. There's a balance between safety on the fields and the ground squirrels, but whatever methods are being used, she said they should not involve leaving the animals to suffer needlessly without food, water and in the heat.

"We're trying to manage being humane and keeping the students and coaches safe," she said.

Email Staff Writer Sue Dremann at [email protected]


Posted by Why?
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 21, 2021 at 11:04 am

Why? is a registered user.

One potential helpful environmentally friendly option is to install owl boxes. A owl family can eat over a 1,000 rodents in a single year.  Visit this web site for resources

Posted by Vance Johnson
a resident of another community
on Jul 21, 2021 at 11:55 am

Vance Johnson is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Scotty
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 21, 2021 at 1:29 pm

Scotty is a registered user.

Slow news day in PA? PA can do better than this.

Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2021 at 5:05 pm

Elizabeth is a registered user.

Thank you very much PA Online for raising awareness of such unethical, illegal and horrific treatment of animals in our community.

Posted by Miriam Palm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2021 at 5:28 pm

Miriam Palm is a registered user.

Cruelty to animals often leads to other types of bad behavior. This cruelty and torture sets a terrible example to students at a place of learning. I am grateful the school district was called out on this one. All Creatures Great and Small deserve humane treatment and compassion. Mr. Macartney describes several preferable alternatives in the article that would minimize animals' suffering.

Posted by Eugenio Geragos
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 21, 2021 at 6:20 pm

Eugenio Geragos is a registered user.

In Mexico, my mother used to trap squirrels and then submerge the squirrel cage/trap in a plastic garbage can full of water drowning them.

It was then my job to dispose of them accordingly.

The squirrels were real nuisances in our orchards ruining countless bushels of fruit.

As a result my mother had a vendetta against them.

No big loss.

Posted by Not Good Enough
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 21, 2021 at 8:57 pm

Not Good Enough is a registered user.

Thank you neighbor Jenny for organizing us, and Cody at Animal Control, and to Sue Dremann and the Weekly for finally exposing PAUSD's cruel irrational practice that it has inflicted for at least 2 years on not only the ground squirrls but on our neighborhood. We often find ourselves upset, trying to contact someone, anyone at PAUSD to stop this, trying to shield our children from the animal's suffering unable to explain it.
And it is totally futile - suffering for no reason. This whole area is part of ground squirrel habitat going up toward the hills as it is for many animals due to the creek and some lack of development. The playing fields were built on a tiny corner of their homes turf. They arn't out of balance or mean. They are just living their life. They deserve better than dying of thrist or crushed.
I tried to stop this a couple years ago. I called a school board member - that went no where. I found out the contractor was to check the traps twice a week - but didn't. Now I know the law is every 24 hrs.
What's really going on here is "checking the box", not getting rid of the animals. It's just window dressing for PAUSD to say "we tried" if someone files a claim.
One thing PAUSD can't do, by state law, is poison them. No no. That is totally illegal in and around school property in California. And think of the other animals that would be poisoned in the process. Nope. Don't even think about it. Get a good - environmental consult to help think it through. Or you may just need to post warning signs and walk the area before games.
One thing that shocks me is that a school and PAUSD would think this was OK as an example for children of any age.

Posted by Pierce Latham
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 22, 2021 at 7:56 am

Pierce Latham is a registered user.

"Get a good - environmental consult to help think it through. Or you may just need to post warning signs..."

Or perhaps consider trapping the live squirrels and then releasing them into another Palo Alto neighborhood where the residents are unilaterally pro-ground squirrel?

Posted by Felicity Jameson
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 22, 2021 at 8:56 am

Felicity Jameson is a registered user.

Squirrels and crows seem to be the predominant wildlife species in suburban Palo Alto.

No major loss if they were eradicated by at least 50% as the local ecological balance is already out of balance due to their predominance.

Posted by Philomena Jacobsen
a resident of another community
on Jul 22, 2021 at 9:16 am

Philomena Jacobsen is a registered user.

> the local ecological balance is already out of balance due to their predominance.

Couldn't they simply release the squirrels at Foothills Park?

Then the owls and coyotes could eat them.

Posted by Dirk Halstrom
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 22, 2021 at 10:31 am

Dirk Halstrom is a registered user.

> Couldn't they simply release the squirrels at Foothills Park?

Only after the squirrels have had their rabies vaccinations.

Posted by Please Don't
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 24, 2021 at 9:29 am

Please Don't is a registered user.

Shoot em! What a bunch of Jerrys here.

Posted by Dave Barber
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2021 at 10:10 am

Dave Barber is a registered user.

Since so many here are sympathetic towards the squirrels, perhaps another Palo Alto 'Adopt a Squirrel' program where concerned residents can introduce displaced squirrels into their own backyards with feeders and water bowls.

Posted by Squidsie
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2021 at 11:02 am

Squidsie is a registered user.

The school should have used de-escalation techniques on the squirrels, and then provided them programs.

Posted by Lindsey Decker
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 24, 2021 at 12:41 pm

Lindsey Decker is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Betty Phillips
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 25, 2021 at 7:39 am

Betty Phillips is a registered user.

Or better yet, tag the squirrels for release after they have been previously captured and either spayed or neutered by Animal Control Services.

Posted by Barb G
a resident of Mayfield
on Jul 26, 2021 at 8:08 am

Barb G is a registered user.

A "misstep"? This wasn't a "misstep." This was the deliberate torture of a sentient mammal by denying it water and sustenance through four 90-degree days until it died.

And a third offense, no less.

And PAUSD says, "Oh - we fired the contractor," as if that makes it all better.

I believe that everyone from the contractor up through the PAUSD management team who allowed this to happen should be fired *and* prosecuted for animal cruelty.

Let's teach our children that indifference and torture will NOT be tolerated - not once, and not ever.

Posted by Melanie Payne
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 26, 2021 at 9:24 am

Melanie Payne is a registered user.

Unfortunately there is no ideal or humane way to get rid of animal pests.

It will always involve killing them in one way or another or else the problem only perpetuates itself.

In eastern Colorado where I am originally from, ranch horses can easily break their legs by accidently stepping into a prairie dog hole and sometimes we have had to put the horse down.

Given the choice between a rodent/pest VS a costly quarter horse, we choose the horses and shoot prairie dogs and gophers on sight.

A ground squirrel is no different.

Posted by Harmony Johnson
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 26, 2021 at 10:05 am

Harmony Johnson is a registered user.

My brothers use to shoot at them with BB guns when we were little. Our parents had a large backyard with no immediate neighbors in the vicinity so this pastime was permitted providing they did not take out a window in doing so.

Later when we moved to a ranch in Idaho, my brothers were allowed to shoot at squirrels with their .22 rifles.

Having moved back to my parent's home in Atherton, this recreational activity is no longer acceptable because we have neighbors now.

Posted by Demetrius Lanham
a resident of another community
on Jul 26, 2021 at 12:32 pm

Demetrius Lanham is a registered user.

Norwegian roof rats are a major nuisance as well.

Vermin + humans = a poor mix.

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