Here’s a question you’ve never heard before: would you kill a squirrel to ward off the plague? They did nothing wrong, they’re just following their instincts in a society too complex for their little squirrel brains to understand, but letting the squirrel live might not be an option anymore. Rodenticide hasn’t been used in Pasadena since last year, but in some locations, trapping and relocation has become ineffective in reducing their populations.

Steve Mermell, Pasadena City Manager, doesn’t have the heart to do it. Upon learning that Los Angeles County was poisoning its squirrels and gophers to reduce rodent populations, he withdrew from the county program:

“The use of poison is a concern because the animals who ingest it are often in turn consumed by other wildlife, causing significant damage to those populations,” he told Pasadena Now

While killing small animals is never a fun task, there’s a number of good reasons to get rid of these adorable pests: gophers can damage tree roots and plastic water lines, mess up lawn-mowing equipment, and increase the spread of invasive weeds. Their populations in a human-built environment like a green, grassy golf course (unseen in regular Southern California terrain) can become unnaturally high, resulting in degradation of the area’s biodiversity and creating dangerous tripping hazards. In the words of Pasadena’s Recreation and Parks Commission, the ground could become a “pockmarked moonscape.”

Ground squirrels can damage sprinkler heads and irrigation pipelines with their teeth, and often eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds, like pheasants or quail. According to the California Department of Fish and Game, 30% of unsuccessful quail nests happen due to ground squirrel degradation, and studies have found that 20 ground squirrels can eat as much grass as one sheep. But the dangers stretch beyond plants and waterways: According to the Pasadena Recreation and Parks Commission, squirrels and gophers can spread typhus fever and the bubonic plague.

The places of the most concern to Parks and Rec are the Brookside Golf Course and Hahamongna Watershed Park, with immense, grassy fields and tall, sturdy oak trees that gophers and ground squirrels thrive in. If their populations are left unchecked, the bird populations of these areas could be threatened, and serious damage could be done to infrastructure. But what good is biodiversity in a place where it doesn’t belong?

There’s a book by Aldo Leopold called “A Sand County Almanac,” in which Leopold describes the concept of “thinking like a mountain.” To think like a mountain, one must shift their outlook from preservation of the self via nature, to preservation of nature via the self. 

I therefore argue that in order for gopher and ground squirrel populations to restore to their natural numbers, natural predators need to be introduced to the areas in question. 

This might sound radical, but it’s not a baseless idea: Using predators to control rampant animal populations has been done before to surprising success. For example, the human reintroduction of wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem resulted in taller trees, richer biodiversity, healthier plant life, and steadier rivers. The wolves took control over the rampant, uncontrollable deer population that was grazing on all the vegetation, which in turn stabilized the soil and provided food for other animal populations, subsequently restoring the balance of life.

This makes less sense on a golf course, but in an area like Hahamongna Park, this is a perfectly reasonable solution. After all, Earth is a community greater than humanity. Natural rodent predators include gopher snakes, badgers, predatory birds, foxes, and raccoons.

Gopher snakes and predatory birds are practically harmless to humans. In fact, gopher snakes imitate rattlesnakes for their own self-defense. Bird attacks are rare, although they do happen. Raccoons and foxes are nocturnal, so their presence would be practically invisible during regular park hours (Hahamongna Park and the Brookside golf course stay closed overnight). 

One way to incorporate natural predators in our public parks would be to include untouched creature zones for native plants and animals to flourish. We simply let nature run its course in certain areas by the park to bring in natural biodiversity. This allows certain creatures to craft burrows unobtrusively, keeping human interference at a minimum. In doing so, we can assure that we’re maintaining rodent populations without guilt or poison.

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