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PETA Considers Action as City Ponders Squirrel Dilemma

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

August 24 -- Advocates with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the world’s largest animal rights group, said Tuesday they were “disappointed” with a City decision last week to uphold a controversial County mandate that could led to the continued killing of squirrels in Palisades Park and may ask their considerable membership base to take action.

The 4 to 3 decision by Parks and Recreation Commissioners last Thursday cleared the way for the City to restart the poisoning of ground squirrels to kill the fleas that carry disease such as plague, a program which has been on hold since June.

The City has not set a date to restart the program, said City spokesperson Judy Rambeau, who also said City officials are currently looking into other alternatives to killing the ground squirrels.

County officials said it is up to the City to decide exactly how to lower the squirrel population in the park, which has sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

If the City decides to move forward with the poisoning, PETA -- which is 850,000 strong -- will ask its local members to take action, said caseworker Mylie Thompson.

"We're going to let our members know what's going on,” said Thompson, who said they are considering an extensive letter writing campaign aimed at Mayor Pam O’Connor.

Thompson said she is holding out hope that the City will come up with a more humane solution to the squirrel dilemma.

"Killing squirrels won't solve the problem,” she said. “In fact, it may just lead to a population explosion."

PETA is holding off on action until they receive a response to a letter the group wrote August 15 to Mayor O'Connor, Thompson said.

In the letter, representatives of PETA asked O'Connor and City officials to consider more human alternatives -- such as flea powder -- to halt any killing of the squirrels.

In addition, the letter asked City officials to consider using the services of a Los Angeles-based animal rights non-profit group, Animal Advocates, which has offered to oversee the dusting of squirrel dens free of charge.

"We still haven't received a response," said Thompson, "so we're waiting for that before we take action. We'd like to be part of the solution."

Vector control official, Gail Van Gordon, said the City was issued an “order of suppression for an excessive ground squirrel population” in the park and that she was “happy to hear (the City) is moving forward” with the program.

Yet while the County issued the order, Gordon said it is the “City’s responsibility to comply with the notice, and (the City’s) choice by which means to enforce it.”

A veterinarian for the County Department of Health said there are other options available to the City that would spare the squirrel population.

Flea dusting is one, said Dr. Patrick Ryan, but he questioned whether the squirrels would receive enough of the powder to also kill the fleas in their underground burrows.

"I just don't see how they could get enough powder on them to kill the fleas in the burrows" said Patrick.

Another option is trapping the squirrels and using new flea control products -- such as Advantage -- to kill the fleas, but such a program could be costly, Ryan said.

“The County sure doesn’t have the money for that type of program,” he said.

The program began last May, almost a year after consultants hired by the City found that the squirrel burrows were weakening the cliffs that overhang Pacific Coast Highway and contributing seriously to dangerous rock and debris slides on the heavily traveled road below.

The only way to fully shore up the cliffs in Palisades Park, said the consultants, would be to remove the squirrels.

Thompson took issue with the findings.

"If it’s an issue of erosion, then it should be addressed by the department of transportation,” he said. “It’s not like erosion, whether from rain or wind or squirrels, is a new issue."

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