Squirrels vanish from Bayfront Park

City hired exterminator

No, they're not nuts: Menlo Park residents who thought squirrels were vanishing from Bedwell Bayfront Park were right. The city hired an exterminator during the fall.

Animal Damage Management Inc., based in Morgan Hill, received a $9,750 contract from Menlo Park to take care of the squirrels in August, according to Deputy City Manager Kent Steffens, describing it as a "very difficult but necessary decision."

He at first attributed the eradication to quarterly San Mateo County Health inspection reports that said squirrels were burrowing through the landfill cap and dragging garbage up to the surface, where the trash could blow into the waterways. "The city got comments on its quarterly reports that squirrel activity was very high and squirrels had actually penetrated the cap," Mr. Steffens said.

However, none of the county inspection reports stated that was the case.

"The main concern with the ground squirrels, or any other burrowing animal, is that their burrows can damage the landfill cap," explained Dean Peterson, the county's director of environmental health. "Caps are designed and installed to limit the amount of water entering a landfill and to control gas production -- so an uncontrolled population of burrowing animals could eventually devastate the cap."

If methane gas escapes from the cap, it creates a fire hazard, according to experts.

But garbage?

"We have no evidence of the squirrels actually dragging trash to the surface at the Marsh Road sites," Mr. Peterson said.

So the squirrels may indeed have posed a problem – the county inspection reports do mention increased activity – but how did the city decide that litter at the park was the squirrels' fault?

"Well, we know because we followed up on it," Mr. Steffens said. "When the problem was identified, city staff did its own investigation, and said, 'OK, what are we going to do about this'?"

He said he didn't know how many burrows were baited with poison, or how many squirrels died as a result. Neither did a representative from Animal Damage Management, who said the technician who carried out the contract was on vacation.

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Posted by Dog owner
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 17, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Before poison was introduced to squirrel burrows at Bayfront Park, I think residents who take their children there to play, or residents who take their dogs to walk there, should have been notified and reassured that there is no danger to other living beings.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jan 17, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Bad, shoddy, sneaky, stupid behavior. I am glad people now know what the city did. I will now happily spend less money in my hometown. Good job, sneaky losers.

Like this comment
Posted by Birdman
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jan 17, 2011 at 1:13 pm

And what about the burrowing owls that utilize the squirrel homes?

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Posted by J. Russell
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Jan 17, 2011 at 1:34 pm

This is very sad news about the squirrels.
Poisoning is irresponsible and Menlo Park should know better!!!
As it stands now, there is already widespread misuse of poisons within our neighborhoods and cities in the hands of non-professionals on a daily basis. As a result, our local animals within their food chain are slowly being poisoned as predators eat sicken squirrels and then are eaten by their predators, it kills all the way up to eventually threaten us.
These poisons leach into our soil,grass,plants & water table.
If Menlo Park is so worried about trash, instead of poisoning every animal that digs, why not hire the young or needy people to pick up the trash? Cheaper in the long run and safer than purchasing poison & paying city employees to handle poison. Create small jobs and save our local wildlife!!! Our squirrels and birds are THE reason we have all the beautiful vegetation and trees we enjoy here. Killing them is not the answer!!

Like this comment
Posted by J.Russell
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Jan 17, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Perhaps someone wants to eventually kill off burrowing owls and endangered species residing there so the park can be developed?

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Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 17, 2011 at 1:54 pm

While this matter was mishandled with respect to the poison moving up the food chain, I find ground squirrels to have no redeeming qualities. They are pests and more than usually annoying in this case.

Why are there not natural predators that rise in population along with these rodents? That is my question? Are they disgusting to the palette as well?

I would encourage the introduction of natural enemies. I would also encourage trapping them, in large numbers if possible, and disposing of them responsibly.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jan 17, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Joe, I am sure the squirrels aren't thrilled w/you, either, but that's no reason to get rid of you & yours. Of course there are plenty of predators that eat squirrels & these ground squirrels at the park. Coyotes, cats & birds of prey - the park has a lot of the latter.

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Posted by disgusted
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Let's just hope the natural predators don't pounce on one of these writhing dying creatures or those aforementioned coyotes, cats and birds of prey will meet the same fate as the squirrels. This situation makes me wonder what these "deciders" are using to think with.

Like this comment
Posted by James Madison
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 17, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Nothing like a landfill cap that was not made thick enough so that the burrows of burrowing animals stayed above it.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm

My comment about the lack of predation has to do with the boldness of ground squirrels around here. They chirp and they run but they tend not to go underground unless they're truly threatened.

I was invited to go out with a .22 rifle with a scope and hunt ground squirrels in rural Santa Margherita. They were a different breed. We never got a bead on even one. All we did was walk toward the pasture and they were all gone in a second. We sat quietly for 20 minutes and never saw another one. It was ridiculously difficult, in fact.

Around here, it would be like a shooting gallery. That is what makes me wonder if the natural process of predator/prey is broken or severely one-sided for some unknown reason.

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Posted by Sybille
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jan 17, 2011 at 5:05 pm

I agree w/ James Madison.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 17, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Ground squirrels are pests and need to be eradicated. They are nothing more than furry rats with fluffy tails. That said, natural predators such as hawks could be introduced so that poisons are not necessary (they use them at San Francisco's garbage transfer station to control Sea Gulls). Live traps are also a possibility. Of course, these options are more expensive.

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Posted by John B.
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 17, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Keep in mind that if they used gas pellets (the poison used most often by Animal Damage Management), then there would not be any secondary kill - i.e. if a coyote ate a dying or dead squirrel, then the coyote would be fine.

That said, in my opinion poison is almost never the answer. Sounds like the general public was not notified, this is unacceptable. Many good suggestions for dealing with the problem have been posted, public hearings would have gone a long way to solve any problems without the use of poisons.

Like this comment
Posted by Victoria Lewis
a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm

This squirrel kill was inhumane and unnecessary. The public should have been informed before their children and pets were exposed to the poison. Wildlife that feed on the squirrels will also die including pet cats. City officials should have conferred with humane experts for alternatives to this ecological disaster. Why can't we share our environment with others?

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Posted by Kathy
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jan 19, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Thanks to the Almanac for bringing to the public's attention what should have been communicated months ago by city staff.

A leaky landfill cap (in this case, just soil) is worrisome, as is the escape of methane gas. What concerns me is that the City did not come forward with this information - which should have been shared with the public.

I would like a followup on this story. Why did Mr. Steffans first say that the County Health Dept. reports stated that squirrels were unearthing trash? Why did he not notify -- educate -- the public (or park visitors) about this effort?

I'd also like Animal Damage Management to report the specific type, and timing, of control used at the park.

Citizens of Menlo Park deserve to have better information from our officials and contractor.

Like this comment
Posted by Alice
a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2011 at 9:09 pm

I thought this park was about reclaiming the land and making something once toxic, vital and alive.
I don't see how intentionally adding poison to the park and killing things fits into this vision.

Like this comment
Posted by Just Saying
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 20, 2011 at 10:08 am

The news about the ground squirrels being poisoned (without any review by the Environmental Commission which is a whole other issue) raises the question as to the wisdom of planting 1000 trees at the park. If the squirrels breached the cap by burrowing which jeopardizes the containment of the methane produced by the garbage left behind 50 years ago, why won't the planting of the trees also breach the cap? Trees have not done well at the park for a myriad of reasons. the toxins in the soil, the absence of ground water and the shallow soil above the cap. The constant presence of salt in the air.

The decision to seek a grant to purchase the trees should have been reviewed by the Environmental Commission, the Parks and Recreation Commission and even the City Council before the project got this far.

Like this comment
Posted by really....
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm

To Menlo Voter:

What an expansive soul you have.

I think it is equally fair to describe humans as under-muscled Gorillas with an aversion to body hair, dangerously dextrous hands, and a distinct inability to share this planet with the other inhabitants that make it beautiful and interesting.

Just saying...

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Posted by Chris
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 20, 2011 at 1:10 pm

"Just Saying" makes good points. City Council has review of the "Mitigated Negative Declaration" on its agenda on Jan. 25. If accepted, this "Declaration" means a full EIR will not be undertaken when the environmental impacts require it under CEQA. There are many flaws in the plan. All these trees & shrubs planted in the grassy interior will change the “look and feel” of the park. There may well be impacts to water quality, and on species of concern in the adjacent National Wildlife Refuge as well as in the park.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 20, 2011 at 4:17 pm


using your logic humans should all go back to living in caves. That's not going to happen and we have constructed various things that have to be protected form damage by wild life. Part of the reason for the explosion in growth of squirrels is that we humans have impacted their natural predators. Since that is the case we have to step in to replace those predators or their predatory action lest the squirrels over populate.

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Posted by No Poison
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 21, 2011 at 7:01 am

Poison is a horrible way to die. The city should have opened up a limited squirrel hunt and shot the squirrels. The dead corpses could have been left for the owls and coyotes and everyone would have been happy. Except for the filthy plague carrying squirrels.

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Posted by Biodiversity
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Who decided to exterminate the native rodents? Is there a person or people who we could educate? No need to vilify the decision makers. And, there's proposal to plant trees. Might not the roots of the trees be seen as a threat to the landfill cap? Let's take the uninformed civil servants under our wings and teach them more about the wonders of our local ecosystem.

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Posted by Gwyn Murray
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 30, 2011 at 7:45 pm

This is nuts. No wonder I haven't seen the Golden Eagle at Bayfront Park, nor any Red Tail Hawks, of late. Nor any gopher snakes. There are/were many much more environmentally sound ways to deal with this issue, and I strongly agree that residents should have been consulted.

At least now the City should report on where/ how the poison was administered, what the potential impact on dogs and other critters that visit the park could be, and what the impact on birds of prey and other predators is/could be.

Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 31, 2011 at 10:52 am

I'm so glad we have such "green," environmentally conscientious, elected officials.

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Posted by Ben Bailey
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Feb 1, 2011 at 8:49 pm

And what of the burrowing owls at Bayfront Park who feed and fed on the ground squirrels? They['re likely feeding on carcasses - and will consequently be exterminated also...

What a debacle - this whole extermination plan should have been communicated to the community in advance and proper environmental assessment and due diligence effected.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Ross
a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2011 at 11:39 am

First, to the rodent and pigeon observers above who posted their hateful specie-biased comments, please consider this short 2' video, thank you: Web Link.

I just can't object enough to the use of poisons and pesticides to justify the euphemistic services of 'Animal Damage Management' (i.e. exterminators) especially when environmental science tells us there is little or no excuse for most cases of broad extermination. Like most issues intrinsic to our own predatory nature, the comments here have been sublime to ridiculous. The most reassuring aspect of this unfortunate decision to exterminate was that at least audit controls were in place to account for the $10,000 to pay for the extermination, which without it could have been easily been buried and overlooked along with its questionable justifications of 'landfill caps', 'dragging garbage to the surface', and 'trash blowing into waterways", not to mention the exterminated and buried nests themselves. I don't mean to be cruel or insulting here, but when job descriptions and issues of 'grounds keeping' involve pest control and extermination, it should be considered by default a technical and moral issue beyond the means and apprehension of the bureaucracy recommending it. In other words, there should be some some technical oversights, reviews, and moral barriers to unilaterally performing exterminations. Considering how many environmental graduate students could have easily been deployed to independently study the issue before it was irretrievably turned over to 'Animal Damage Management' for extermination is especially regrettable considering how many local environmental graduate students with professorial supervision could have used the occasion as an opportunity to satisfy a graduate field study requirement, and hopefully an unbiased impact-report more likely to pass scrutiny for the optimum effects and benefits to (1) the 'pest' itself, (2) to its natural predators, (3) for underlying soil conservation, and (4) to park visitors and public relations, which if approved and accepted, could have likely delivered an equivalent or better level of conservation with far less controversy.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael Young
a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2011 at 7:36 pm

This is absolutely revolting. The poisoning of squirrels is certainly not a "necessary decision," as Deputy City Manager Kent Steffens stated. This is almost like a story out of The Onion. How cruel, inhumane, and uptight can we get?

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

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