City of Berkeley Plans to Kill Squirrels Accused of Spreading Toxins from Landfill

By Jodi Hernandez and Christie Smith
|  Tuesday, Feb 18, 2014  |  Updated 6:08 PM PDT
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A popular park in the Bay Area has a huge gopher and squirrel problem. NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez has the latest on the eradication plan.

A popular park in the Bay Area has a huge gopher and squirrel problem. NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez has the latest on the eradication plan.

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Popular Bay Area Park Looks to Eradicate Rodents

A popular park in the Bay Area has a huge gopher and squirrel problem. NBC Bay Area's Christie Smith is live at Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley with an eradication plan.
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It looks like it’s the end of the road for many squirrels and Western Pocket Gophers at Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley. 

The city plans to trap, remove and terminate them. It's not because the city is anti-squirrel, but because the squirrels are digging holes into a landfill, releasing toxins into the Bay.

“These squirrels and these pocket gophers could end up impacting the ecosystem of the Bay,” said Matthai Chakko, Berkeley city spokesman.

Chakko says the park sits on top of a landfill that was in use until 1991, and the city says the burrowing rodents are digging dangerously close to buried waste. If they're not stopped, toxins could be released and find their way into the Bay.

“If the squirrels and the gophers were able to puncture the clay cap, you could have rain water wash into those holes and washing materials from the former landfill into the Bay,” Chakko said.

The city has tried to get control of situation since 2009 by placing raptor perches and owl boxes around the park, but so far, nothing has worked.

Berkeley plans to trap and kill the critters soon, though the method that will be used to kill the animals is unclear.

Even though signs forbid clearly forbid it, people seem to love feeding nuts to the rodents. All the feeding has led to a jump in the population. And all those squirrels are leaving holes in the ground along the 90-acre bayfront park.

Take a walk around and there are holes all over.

According to a February city report, the problem came to light in 2009 when staff from the Regional Water Quality Control Board identified significant erosion of the cover along the three shorelines of the closed landfill.  He says the city was ordered to act.

Residents had mixed opinions. Most said they would prefer the rodents to be moved.  However, many understood the environmental concerns for the Bay. 

“It's just horrible,” parkgoer Rhoda Cataleta said. “These are critters that have been here forever and the overpopulation is because of us because we feed them.”

“Who likes the idea of exterminating cuddly little squirrels?” parkgoer Rick Stevens said. “Sometimes we have to do unpleasant things to take care of the greater good.”

The start date for the squirrel and gopher termination has not been determined.

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