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CA Coastal Commission to decide about Farallones poison drop on Dec. 16

Coming up on December 16, a final decision about the poisoning of the Farallon Islands amidst the fragile waters of our surrounding Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary will be made during an online public hearing and a subsequent vote of the California Coastal Commission. Your own virtual online or telephone testimony can help determine the outcome of this critical vote. You can easily sign up to be heard, as of the posting of the meeting agenda during the final week of November, by going to https://www.coastal.ca.gov/meetings/mtgdates.html and clicking on the current Coastal Commission agenda for the month of December, then click on “Thursday, December 16” where you’ll see the agenda item for the Farallones poison drop. Please sign up to present for that agenda item.

We anticipate that this will be a very close vote, since the powerful poison interests and their surrogates are trying to use scare tactics in an attempt to sway the Commissioners’ votes.

On the Farallones, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to spread one-and-a-half tons of toxic rodenticide bait laced with a deadly wildlife poison from helicopters in a misguided effort to try to keep away about 12 protected burrowing owls by eliminating mice that attract them, in hopes of perhaps benefitting a small seabird known as the ashy storm petrel. The poison being proposed for application has proven so harmful to all animals and so damaging to the entire web of life that a moratorium on its use has been implemented throughout California until less harmful options are evaluated, and both Massachusetts and British Columbia are now moving toward similar bans.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s stated objective for scattering this poison is to try to completely eradicate invasive house mice from the Southeast Farallon Island. During the fall months of most years, a seasonal overpopulation of mice there attracts a dozen or so burrowing owls that fly over from the nearby Marin County coastline to prey on the mice. But as the temporary seasonal spike in the mouse population there naturally subsides, a few burrowing owls linger on the Southeast Farallon Island.

These remaining owls then instead sometimes prey on a small seabird called the ashy storm petrel. The Farallones are one of seventeen breeding and habitat areas for the Ashy Storm Petrels along the Pacific Coast, and the very same federal agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has ironically twice rejected this particular seabird population as a candidate for stronger protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Unfortunately, the second-generation anticoagulant rodenticide (SGAR) compound chosen for the proposed mouse eradication, Brodifacoum, results in a slow and excruciating death to other “non-target” animals that consume the bait, with only insects being immune. Sadly, the toxicity of Brodifacoum inevitably induces the slow secondary poisoning of any gull, raptor, owl, or other species that eats the bait or consumes dead or dying poisoned mice, or any animal that preys on any of the other non-target species that will also be subjected to the bait.

Worldwide, thirty-eight-percent (38%) of the initial aerial applications of this same Brodifacoum rodenticide bait during eradication efforts to control mice on islands have failed to fully eliminate the mice. Since it is not uncommon for an initial Brodifacoum drop to fail to fully eradicate mice, a follow-up repetition of recurring poison applications is often tried during the following years. Mice, in particular, tend to quickly develop a genetic resistance to such rodenticides, further complicating the escalating biological risks for harmless non-target species in the path of what then becomes an inevitable series of repeated multi-year poison drops.

Unanticipated harm to ecosystems on other islands around the globe resulting from spreading this same poison is well-documented. Not surprisingly, follow-up analytical studies found that Brodifacoum was still present in fish within the drop zone three years after the 2012 helicopter distribution of this same chemical on Wake Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Air Force, following the Brodifacoum application there that failed to kill all of the targeted rats, recommended a restriction on human consumption of fish for 942 days.

The last public hearing before the California Coastal Commission about the controversial Farallones poisoning scheme, held in San Luis Obispo back in July of 2019, resulted in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service temporarily withdrawing their plan, due to the proposal’s lack of public support and the inability of project proponents to even answer the Commissioners’ most basic questions.

Unfortunately, the same old plan is back unchanged and the same special interests now poised to profit financially from the Farallones poisoning are currently pushing the Coastal Commission to provide their consent during their upcoming December meeting, apparently hoping that the normal holiday distraction of the public might enable a hasty approval of the poisoning before a new director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

If the Farallones are allowed to be saturated with this poison, there are dozens of other sensitive island ecosystems with a host of fragile wildlife that will be in similar jeopardy. In a world currently characterized by government agencies making broad claims of using what are now being called nature-based solutions, both at the federal level and here in California, nothing could be further from a “nature-based” method than the broad helicopter dissemination of Brodifacoum throughout an entire ecosystem.

A new public website enables the free download of a colorful eBook describing the Farallones proposal and some safer alternatives, at http://SanctuaryBook.org

If you are unable to make the Dec. 16 online public hearing, you can send an email right away to farallonislands@coastal.ca.gov saying “No Drop.”

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