SAN RAFAEL (KPIX) – Last summer, federal wildlife officials proposed to the California Coastal Commission a controversial plan to drop poison pellets on the Farallones Islands to kill invasive mice. After public outcry, the proposal was withdrawn, but now it’s back and it’s pitting conservation groups against each other.
The plan is for a helicopter to drop nearly 3,000 pounds of bait pellets laced with rodent poison on the Farallones’s Southern Islands to kill off an invasive mouse colony transported there during the Gold Rush days. Federal wildlife officials say the colony has attracted a small group of burrowing owls that, when finished feeding on mice, begin killing chicks of a fragile species called the Ashy Storm Petrel.
“People are just outraged by this plan,” said Kelle Kacmaricik, the director of Wildlife Advocacy at the Wildcare Animal Hospital in San Rafael. “They cannot believe that the federal agency that’s protecting our wildlife is considering a highly toxic, anti-coagulant rodenticide on these islands to kill off mice that have been there for 100 years.”
Wildcare was instrumental in getting the state of California to ban brodifacoum, the very type of poison they want to use on the island. That came after a study showed 76 percent of all the animals that perished at the hospital had some trace of rodent poison in their systems. Kacmaricik says other birds, such as Western Gulls, will die if they eat the poisoned mice.
“These chemicals are everywhere,” she said. “To introduce those kind of highly toxic chemicals is mind-blowing that that would even be considered.”
It may be surprising to hear the Golden Gate Audubon Society is supporting the plan. They and other conservation groups believe the mice must be eradicated, once and for all, or the Ashy Storm Petrel could be headed for extinction.
“That impact is so great that it may well have a direct effect on the survival of that species everywhere,” said Audubon Society Executive Director, Pam Young. “The petrels are now at such a steep decline, more steep than before, that the risk of disappearing from this island is now really critical.”
Young points to a similar plan at South Georgia Island near Antarctica, that has reportedly been successful in eradicating rats that were established there 200 years ago. She wants to try the same thing at the Farallones Islands to protect the petrels. But Kacmarcik believes U.S. Fish and Wildlife is trying to protect the petrel even if it means killing other birds. She favors using non-toxic methods which she says, according to the Environmental Impact Report, officials aren’t even considering.
“One of the responses was that ‘Research into non-toxic methods is beyond the scope of this project,’” Kacmarcik said.
The plan will be presented again to the California Coastal Commission’s next meeting, June 10-12, in Petaluma. Public comment on the issue will be heard at that time.