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City Turns to Euthanasia to Reduce Squirrel Population in Park

By Jorge Casuso

July 21 – They tried education. They tried contraception. They even tried poison gas. And still, the ground squirrel population in Palisades Park has doubled since February, City and County officials said Thursday.

Now, Los Angeles County Public Health officials have notified the City that it must take additional measures to reduce the rodents, which both parties agree could spread disease and destabilize the park perched above Pacific Coast Highway.

To comply, the City is contracting with Heritage Wildlife Management to trap the ground squirrels in several blocks of the park later this summer and send them to be euthanized offsite using carbon dioxide, which the American Veterinary Association has deemed acceptable, City officials announced Thursday.

The dead squirrels will then be taken to a wildlife rehabilitation facility and fed to hawks and other wild birds that prey on squirrels when they are returned to the wild, according to City and County officials.

“The goal is not in any way to remove all ground squirrels from Palisades Park,” said Gail Van Gordon, county public health entomologist. “The intent is to reduce the number to a level that is acceptable for the safety of park users and pets and for the health of the squirrels.”

The efforts launched by City Manager Lamont Ewell in February -- which included administering immunocontraceptives and urging the public not to feed the squirrels -- were not as effective as anticipated, City officials said. (see story)

Despite the disappointing results, the City is optimistic that a research program conducted by the USDA Wildlife Service and the California Department of Health Services in a park portion of the Berkeley Marina could work in Santa Monica, City officials said.

The program -- which calls for trapping squirrels and injecting them with the vaccine that inhibits their sexual development -- proved to have been more than 90 percent effective, according to a study published by UC Davis.

City and County officials hope UC Davis and Cal Poly Pomona will agree to undertake and coordinate a similar program in Palisades Park that could become a model for reducing the use of lethal controls on ground squirrels.

For now, City and County Health officials are continuing to urge people not to feed the furry rodents.

“Allowing squirrels to naturally forage for food is a major factor in maintaining a healthy population in manageable numbers,” Van Gordon said.

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