Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Supes delay decision on Clam Beach bird poisoning proposal

A proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to poison predatory birds that are harming the snowy plover population on Clam Beach was met with hesitation Tuesday by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors. - Megan Hansen/The Times-Standard

Local Fish and Wildlife biologist Jim Watkins requested support Tuesday from the board on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for permission to conduct a research experiment on the county's land at Clam Beach. He said ravens and crows, known as corvids, are eating Pacific Coast western snowy plover eggs and chicks at the beach. The plovers are a small shorebird that was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1993.

Watkins said the service wants to see if using an avicide to kill off predatory ravens and crows could help increase the local snowy plover population. He said the snowy plovers nest on Clam Beach, and that previous attempts to trap, shoot or otherwise get rid of the ravens and crows has been unsuccessful.

”It would be a two-year experiment to start lethally removing some corvids,” Watkins said. “We're targeting those individuals we know are going after eggs.”

The experiment would involve putting chicken eggs laced with the Environmental Protection Agency-approved avicide DRC-1339 in fake nests placed inside cages known as exclosures, Watkins said. About 20 topless exclosures would be placed on the dunes in Clam Beach with signs and fencing around them. Corvids that eat the eggs would then die one to two days after ingesting the poison.

Watkins said the birds would likely die at their roosts and wouldn't pose much of a threat to scavengers. He said it takes a very small amount of the toxin to kill the birds.

”It won't even affect a mouse,” Watkins said.

Cats are a different story. Watkins said cats seem to be the only other animals susceptible to the poison in small doses.

DRC-1339 hasn't been used in Humboldt County before, but is currently in use by the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Service and the San Diego Wildlife Service, Watkins said. Since corvids are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, the service has to acquire a special permit from the Humboldt County Agriculture Department to use the avicide.

A majority of the board expressed concern with the poisoning proposal. Only 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg and 2nd District Supervisor Clif Clendenen voiced support for moving the project forward.

First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said he wants the Fish and Wildlife Service to hold public stakeholder meetings about the project before the supervisors approve it.

Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace agreed and said he wants to see a more formal draft plan.

”We'd have more comfort if the public knew what the plan is,” Lovelace said.

During public comment, five people took issue with the proposal.

Arcata resident Uri Driscoll said there needs to be better monitoring of the snowy plover population, and that the county really doesn't know how many of the endangered birds are in the area. He said the proposal won't fix the problem anyway.

”New ravens will simply take over the territory of the old ones,” Driscoll said.

Environmental Protection Information Center Conservation Director Andrew Orahoske said EPIC isn't opposed to the proposal, but is concerned about whether it's effective. He said the organization wants to engage in a broader discussion about corvid management.

The board voted unanimously to continue the issue to November or December. They asked the service to conduct outreach meetings in the meantime to solicit public input. Service representatives said they want to start the project in January.

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