Viewpoint - January 26, 2011

Editorial: Public left out of decision on squirrels

It may have made sense for the city of Menlo Park to eradicate the squirrel population at Mike Bedwell Bayfront Park last August, but it is difficult to understand why residents never were told about the action, either before or after the animals were poisoned.

In the scheme of things, getting rid of the squirrels, which were thought to be tunneling their way into the earthern landfill cap and dragging garbage to the top, was not an expensive proposition. At under $10,000, paid to a Morgan Hill company named Animal Damage Management Inc., the cost was small enough for Deputy City Manager Kent Steffens to OK without City Council approval.

But when the city is talking about placing a dangerous poison around pedestrian and biking trails in a popular park, the public should have been notified. And now that the squirrels have been removed, the contractor's employee who performed the job is on vacation and cannot be reached. Without his comment, it is not clear whether any poison remains in the burrows and is available to dogs or other animals that might be sniffing around the park, looking for squirrels. Nor is the number of squirrels killed known.

Mr. Steffen attributed the source of his concern about the squirrels to county health inspection reports.

"The city got comments on its quarterly reports that squirrel activity was very high and squirrels had actually penetrated the cap," Mr. Steffens told The Almanac.

But none of the reports examined by The Almanac stated that the squirrels were actually digging through the cap and bringing up litter from landfill, although they did say squirrel activity was high and that there was increased litter found at the park.

The county's director of environmental health, Dean Peterson, told The Almanac, "We have no evidence of the squirrels actually dragging trash to the surface at the Marsh Road sites."

He went on to explain that "the main concern with the ground squirrels, or any other burrowing animal, is that their burrows can damage the landfill cap. 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."

When asked how the city decided the squirrels were at fault for the park litter, Mr. Steffens said, "Well, we know because we followed up on it. When the problem was identified the city staff did its own investigation. ..."

Apparently, soon after it was decided to call in the exterminator. Perhaps this was the right decision to make, but nevertheless, the city owes residents, especially park users, an explanation of why the public was not notified, why the squirrels were eradicated, and more important, what poison was used and whether any residue remains that could be dangerous to pets and their masters.


Posted by NOT OK, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 31, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Seriously? The city manager has the authority to exterminate dozens, hundreds, or thousands of squirrels? Is that really ok with everyone reading this article?

Murdering any animal by a public employee should not be allowed unless the public is at serious risk.

Posted by Papa, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Feb 1, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Are you serious?? Squirrels are verminous rodents which carry diseases, just like rats. Do some research instead of relying on your childhood memories of Disney cartoons.

Posted by Get a Grip, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 2, 2011 at 12:20 pm


You need to get a grip. Humans carry disease as well. Do you hermetically seal yourself in Saran wrap?

Squirrels, like most other animals, play a role in the dissemination and propogation of al sorts of trees and plants. "NOT OK" may be responding somewhat briskly to the city decision, but if your solution is to eradicate any organism that makes you feel microbiologically unsafe, I would prefer their world to yours any day.

Posted by Daveo, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Most friends of mine from rural areas call ground squirrels 'burrowing rats'. As a frequenter of the park,I would have preferred to see modifications to the park to make the environment more conducive to the nesting of a more diverse population of Birds of Prey. Hawks, Harriers, Falcons...I guess the park is too small, but maybe some day Condors? Much more entertaining, circle of life and all, you know.

Foxes, Bobcats?

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2011 at 7:44 pm

[Post removed. Just a snarky comment about other posters - doesn't add to discussion.]

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