Our treasured Farallon islands: Not yet safe from a crazy helicopter poisoning plan

August 24, 2021, 11:03AM

map Farallon Islands

The misguided proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to scatter a ton-and-a-half of cereal bait laced with the deadly Brodifacoum anticoagulant blood thinner from helicopters, right in the midst of our Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, is unfortunately not dead yet.

This controversial scheme was temporarily withdrawn by the Wildlife Service when they appeared before the California Coastal Commission during a contentious July 2019 meeting in San Luis Obispo. After several interim delays since then, the still-pending Coastal Commission decision was rescheduled yet again for their upcoming September 2021 virtual Commission meeting. At press time in the final week of August 2021, nobody in these agencies seemed to have any idea if poisoning issue will be voted on during September or if any decision will be deferred once again.

The temporary delay of Coastal Commission action regarding this obsolete chemical, well-known to spread throughout the food chain to slowly kill non-target seabirds like our western gulls, has enabled important progress in finding workable alternatives. The postponement of any formal decision has provided an opportunity for researchers to further demonstrate the efficacy of non-toxic fertility control measures that would instead rely on harmless contraceptive bait to interrupt the breeding cycle of the house mice that attract burrowing owls to the Farallones. Fertility control baits are organic and already in use to limit the impact of rodents throughout California’s poultry and rice industries without unnecessarily killing non-target species.

In January of this year, Governor Newsom proudly signed AB 1788, which places a moratorium on the use of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGAR’s), including Brodifacoum, throughout California until a study can be completed about safer methods of pest control. While this state law does not specifically prohibit the use of these same SGAR poisons on coastal islands, the resulting ecosystem damage on islands can be even more insidious and concentrated than on land. And since many of the gulls on the Farallones frequently commute to mainland locations, Region 9 of the Environmental Protection Agency has warned that during and after helicopter poisoning of the Farallones, carcasses of poisoned gulls washing up dead on our local Sonoma Coast beaches here will need to be handled with strict HAZMAT protocols and treated as hazardous waste.

Ironically, the specific target species that USFWS wants to get rid of at the Farallones adds up to twelve burrowing owls, and these owls are a protected species, primarily due to loss of much of their habitat along the mainland coast. The flawed hypothesis behind the poison drop is that if the USFWS could somehow completely rid the island of each and every mouse with Brodifacoum, a poison that has failed to successfully eradicate all mice on islands elsewhere during 38 percent of prior attempts, then the dozen problematic mouse-hungry burrowing owls would no longer fly out from the Marin headlands to the Farallon Islands to dine. But to essentially sterilize an island of all animal life except insects, and then try to selectively reintroduce only certain species is, to put it mildly, overkill. Any incidental drift of air-dropped poison pellets into the intertidal zone, as has been documented elsewhere, would also obviously pose a threat to our fisheries-based regional economy.

Largely because of the inhumane ecosystem damage in which SGAR poisons have proven to harm so many non-target animals, Massachusetts is considering a prohibition similar to California’s, and Malibu has banned the same entire SGAR class of poisons, including Brodifacoum, by amending their Local Coastal Plan (LCP) following a prior similar ban affecting the Santa Monica Mountains. The Ventura County LCP is currently also proceeding to ban this poison. And to our north, a dozen communities in British Columbia are moving toward prohibitions on cruel SGAR poisons because their neighborhood owls are being found dead in streets and yards after consuming poisoned prey. Currently, the County of Sonoma is wisely considering limiting these poisons within our coastal zone as well, since Permit Sonoma is now updating our own local coastal plan.

The upcoming California decision on the proposed “Farallones Poison Drop”, if it does come before the Coastal Commission for a vote during their September meeting, is of course very responsive to emailed comments submitted by the public.

A free eBook about the Farallones issue is available: http://PoisonFreeSanctuary.org. More importantly: send a quick email simply saying “No Poison Drop” right now to this address…. FarallonIslands@coastal.ca.gov