Channel Island rats win reprieve from NPS poison


Mar 11, 2001
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Island rats win reprieve to Dec. 1

Lawsuit delays Park Service's poisoning plan



A National Park Service plan to poison the rats of Anacapa Island is on hold until Dec. 1, pending a ruling in a lawsuit filed this month by animal rights activists.

The Fund for Animals, a national nonprofit organization based in New York City, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on Friday, seeking to halt a park plan to drop poison by helicopter on Anacapa, one of five islands in the Channel Islands National Park.

The group alleges that the park plan violates international treaties and park policies because, along with the rats, an exotic pest on Anacapa, the poison would kill native birds, mammals, reptiles and other wildlife.

"We just feel like this plan is reckless," said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of the fund. "We would like to stop it permanently. We're simply saying they need to take a harder look at the issue. There may be other alternatives they haven't examined yet."

The Park Service had intended to drop poisoned bait last week on one of the three islets that make up Anacapa. The goal, officials said, was to obliterate the rats so that the Xantus' murrelet and ashy storm-petrel, two species of birds commonly found on Anacapa a century ago, could again flourish there. The birds are small and cannot defend their eggs from rats.

As proof of the benefits of rat eradication, park officials have pointed to Santa Barbara Island, where thousands of murrelet nests can be found. By contrast, there are only 50 to 200 murrelet nests on Anacapa.

The National Audubon Society supports the park plan. Opponents include the Santa Barbara chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and the Channel Islands Animal Protection Association, a small group that was formed this year in Santa Barbara.

Both the Park Service and The Fund for Animals have asked for a court hearing in the case before Dec. 1. This week, park officials said they had only a small window of time in which to drop the poison on Anacapa.

The program had been specifically scheduled for the fall, officials said, because that is when many birds, including warblers, sparrows and meadow larks, are not on the island. The populations of rats and deer mice also are low this time of year, at the end of the dry season, they said.

"More rats would be driven to eat the bait prior to the greening of the vegetation," said Yvonne Menard, a park spokeswoman.

Park biologists already have captured 1,000 deer mice, a native species, and placed them in a building on Anacapa for safekeeping. In advance of the aerial drops, biologists had planned to trap the owls and falcons in the area and remove them from harm's way.

At the same time, an environmental report on the plan states that "it seems reasonable to expect a significant impact on any species that preys primarily on rats and/or mice on Anacapa Island" with the type of poison chosen by the park.

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