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HOA asked to stop killing squirrels

Posted: December 11, 2008 10:10 p.m.
Updated: December 12, 2008 4:59 a.m.
 
How to get rid of a growing population of ground squirrels is dividing a manicured Canyon Country community.

The omnipresent squirrels are burrowing into a dusty hillside on a cul-de-sac bordering the American Beauty Classic community and the Santa Clara River.

Some of the community's 531 residents want the homeowners' association to stop poisoning the squirrels.

Laura A. Scott, a 17-year resident, has a petition bearing the names of 47 of 48 residents on and near her cul-de-sac, Bruces Place, who want the poisoning stopped.

"The only person who wouldn't sign it was a board member," she said, referring to the association's board of directors. "It's a disappointment."

There are a number of environmental impacts posed by the poison, Scott said.

Topping the list is a concern that traces of the poison will end up in the Santa Clara River.

About two decades ago, the slopes at the end of Bruces Place, between the houses and the Santa Clara River, were green with plenty of ground cover and trees, Scott said.

When the Northridge earthquake struck in 1994, it damaged some of the slope's irrigation system, she said.

Without water, the greenery died and squirrels began burrowing into the bald hillside.

Greg Moses, president of GM Management, said the barren hillsides, made porous by tunneling droves of ground squirrels, created the threat of mudslides.

"The squirrels have riddled these hills with many hundreds of tunnels," Moses said Wednesday. "The condition is called soil piping. When it rains, the water shoots through these tunnels. The hillside will erode and it will result in mudslides. It could also endanger lives."

For that reason, he was forced to act promptly, he said.

Based on the advice of a geologist, he contracted an exterminator to use poison to kill the rodents.

"We did discuss other possible ways of dealing with the problem, but this is the only feasible option," Moses said. Scott and others would like to see the slopes irrigated and restored.

Allowing ground cover to take hold naturally, however, is far too slow in addressing the problem of the infestation, Moses said.

"We have to get rid of the rodents, then compact the hills," he said. "Then we can possibly plant some vegetation and discourage the (squirrels) from coming back."

Scott would like to see the slopes temporarily protected with a plastic tarp.

Moses said plastic is not out of the question.

"Plastic is something the HOA board is looking into," he said. "I don't know if that would solve the problem. The tunnels are already there."

Whatever remedy is pursued to restore an unstable hillside, the use of poison to kill squirrels has residents concerned.

American Beauty Classic resident Cori Leffler wrote a letter to The Signal calling the poison (diphacinone) "a highly dangerous poison ... toxic to humans and causes nosebleeds, hemorrhaging and blood thinning.

"This poison is also harmful to birds. To harm a bird directly or indirectly, with the exception of pigeons, starlings and English house sparrows, is a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act."

Moses, in response to Leffler's claims, wrote The Signal an e-mail pointing out the squirrels cause between $8,000 and $10,000 in damages.

He said the poison used is a legal chemical.

The two chemicals used as poison at American Beauty Classics are zinc phosphide, which is mixed with bait and reacts to the acids in rodent digestion to create a lethal toxic gas, and diphacinone, which is highly toxic to humans and other mammals if inhaled.

Messages left for Gragoe Pest Services Inc. in Thousand Oaks, the exterminator contracted to kill the squirrels, were not returned.

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