Charged with, among other things, protecting natural resources, the USDA has announced its intention to trap predators – skunks, raccoons, opossums, rats and cats – of endangered bird species frequenting Mission Bay starting perhaps as soon as February.
“This program is to protect endangered California least terns and their nests from predation throughout Mission Bay and to protect a breeding population of light-footed Ridgeway’s rails at the Northern Wildlife Preserve,” said Pam Manns, public affairs specialist, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, USDA. “Our predator management activities are meant to boost the survival rate of these endangered birds and increase their population numbers.”
Word is that some, but not all, trapped predators would be exterminated offsite.
“If we were brought feral cats (we are often), we would work with the feral cat folks,” said Michael Workman, director of the County Communications Office. “We spay or neuter them and place them. They make very good 'barn cats' or stable cats.”
Manns noted that California state fish and wildlife laws “do not allow for relocation because doing so could upset the balance of nature in new areas.”
Manns said the federal agency is working in collaboration with City Parks and Recreation personnel, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and UCSD Reserve System to carry out its mission.
“We are doing this to protect these endangered species for future generations,” Manns said. “When conducting lethal management activities, Wildlife Services evaluates all potential tools for humaneness, effectiveness, ability to target specific individual animals and/or species, and potential impact on human safety. We comply with all applicable state and federal laws and are committed to wildlife damage management efforts that are safe, effective and environmentally responsible.”
“The predator mitigation program has been used for more than two decades in San Diego, and has helped to protect federally designated endangered species including terns and clapper rails,” said city spokesperson Tim Graham.
"The City is mandated by federal law to comply with efforts to protect endangered species, and will continue to cooperate to protect sensitive animal species that live in the area,” he said.
“The most important thing is for residents to be responsible with their pets and be careful about not leaving pet food and trash out that attracts wildlife into urban environments,” said Rebecca Schwartz Lesberg, director of conservation for San Diego Audubon. “That way pets and wildlife will not be at risk, and we could reduce threats to the sensitive wildlife that depend on our few remaining natural areas.”
Schwarz Lesberg noted that non-lethal predator control measures such as fences, hazing and trapping /relocating predators is best whenever possible.
“When that fails, some predators are taken lethally, and there are strict guidelines to make sure animals do not suffer,” she said. “It's done only when the survival of endangered species depends on this.”
The wildlife conservationist pointed out that “the real problem sprouts from humans over developing and depleting precious habitats causing species to become endangered.”
The mission of USDA APHIS Wildlife Services (WS) is to provide federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist.
WS conducts program delivery, research, and other activities through its Regional and State Offices, the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) and its Field Stations, as well as through its National Programs. Funding for the WS Program is a combination of federal appropriations and cooperator-provided funds.