Ground Squirrels Trapped and Euthanized at Malibu Bluffs Park

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Ground squirrels are being trapped and euthanized at Malibu Bluffs Park.

Anyone who visits Malibu Bluffs Park knows that a colony of ground squirrels has lived around the ball fields for years. They can be seen scampering across the grassy areas and pathways, usually coming and going from the natural brushy areas that surround the ball fields and make up a large portion of the park.

That is, until the City of Malibu decided they were “pests” and needed to be “managed.”

The city took over the maintenance of Malibu Bluffs Park in June 2014, after initiating a five-year swap deal for Charmlee Park with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. The city began poisoning squirrels with aluminum phosphide, a poison that the EPA categorizes as highly toxic, that spreads throughout the food chain. Malibu has since switched to the non-toxic but still lethal practice of trapping and euthanizing them.

Kian Schulman, co-chair of Poison Free Malibu, said she learned that the city’s Parks and Recreation Department had “installed five utility boxes with live rodent traps in the ground in high squirrel traffic areas. The lids covering the boxes are bolted down to prevent  them from being vandalized or tampered with, but still allow pest control personnel access to inspect them daily for activity.”

Director of Parks and Recreation Bob Stallings explained the city’s practices in an email to Poison Free Malibu: “Rodents captured are removed from the site and euthanized. The need for trapping is because of overpopulation.”

“We request a stop to this plan until it can be reviewed by the Parks Commission at the next meeting (May 17),” Schulman wrote to Stallings. “This is a cruel and inhumane approach to rodent control.

“Trapping is an outdated practice that removes a few individual animals, but does nothing to permanently solve the problem,” she said. “Even if all squirrels were eradicated at once, more would come, as the main problem is not being addressed: they like going underneath several old storage trailers next to the ball fields and could easily be excluded from there simply by installing hardware cloth across all entry points.”

“If the containers are secured using exclusionary measures, the squirrels will only go somewhere else in the park, most likely the athletic fields where the food is,” Stallings explained. “We can’t keep rodents off the park, but this solution helps control the level and location of the infestation.”

Schulman said the basic Integrated Pest Management Policy, which was accepted by the City of Malibu and recommended by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, recommends exclusion as the method of choice. In the interim, until the city can use exclusion techniques under the trailers, she recommended that Stallman consider a catch and release program on park grounds.

“It would be a welcome policy,” she said. “All rodents can be released, as required by law, in other parts of the 83 acres of open space in the park.” Previously, Schulman had also suggested putting raptor boxes up in the park, allowing them to prey on the squirrels. 

Stallings rejected the idea of a catch and release program.

“Releasing captured rodents back into the wild only exacerbates an already out-of-control problem,” he wrote. “Thresholds [for squirrel populations] have been established for each area of [Bluffs] park. There is zero tolerance for rodents in the turf athletic fields, while the threshold for pest control is much lower around the storage containers.

“Measures used to manage the squirrel and gopher population around the containers are to backfill holes with dirt and gravel and live trapping. The goal is not to eradicate all the squirrels around the containers, but to allow opportunities for shelter — albeit temporary shelter — to avoid holes on the athletic fields.”

 “I walk the park several days a week and I have noted there are rarely any holes in the turf area,” Schulman argued. “The reality is that Bluffs Park is surrounded by natural open space which is home to many animals, rodents and reptiles … zero tolerance for pests in the park is unrealistic and can never be a permanent solution — the permanent solution is management and control for a safe and healthy co-existence with the neighboring wildlife.”