Farallon Islands is one of the most important ecological locations in the world. It hosts the largest seabird breeding colony within the contiguous U.S.A. They are in crisis and there are few opportunities to restore them.
We have a safe, proven way to save this delicate ecosystem from further degradation.
Point Blue Conservation Science, the organization I represent has had biologists live on the islands and monitor the wildlife for more than 50 year. We know the beauty of this wildlife refuge and what is threatening it.
Invasive house mice, which were introduced to the islands by sailing vessels in the 19th Century, pose the greatest threat. They now roam in plaguelike numbers. These mice can cause havoc on already endangered seabirds like the ashy stormpetrel and other native plants, as well as on salamander, cricket, and other invertebrates populations that aren’t found anywhere else in the world.
The mice will be removed so that the wildlife and habitats of the islands can recover and thrive, just as in the case with invasive rodent eradications on islands around the globe.
But it is crucial to act quickly. The already fragile population of ashy stormpetrels is on a dangerously downward trajectory. This is especially concerning given the global decline in biodiversity and increasing extinctions. 75% of global bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian extinctions have been on islands. And invasive species are responsible for shocking 86% of those extinctions. The nonclimate impacts of climate change are also being felt, making it even more important to eradicate these threats.
The U.S. has now suggested a safe and effective method to remove the Farallones. Fish and Wildlife Service: A limited, short-term distribution by skilled professionals of rodenticide under strict control conditions. There is minimal risk to native wildlife.
It’s the same method that was successfully and safely used on Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Park 11 miles off of the coast in Southern California. Nearly all 700 successful island removals have been carried out using the same method.
The planning process for this proposed action was one of the most scientifically rigorous and transparent of any ecological restoration project. The public, outside agencies and conservation groups were all invited to provide input. There were 49 options that were evaluated for safety and effectiveness.
Given this review and planning and the urgent ecological crisis facing the Farallones it’s not surprising that top conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy (American Bird Conservancy), the National Audubon Society (National Audubon Society), Audubon California (among others) have joined Point Blue in supporting the project.
Critics make a variety of claims, however. For example, they argue that fertility control using contraceptive bait is a benign alternative for rodenticide. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved any contraceptive product for controlling mouse populations. Field data is scarce on potential unintended effects of contraceptive bait. Farallones are also too important for experiments.
Importantly, restoration of the islands will require complete eradication and not population control as promised by contraception. This would involve regular application of contraceptive bait on a seasonally basis, potentially disrupting breeding seabirds, seals, and sea lions.
Critics also claim that gulls cannot successfully be hazed away from islands by applying the bait. Gulls can eat any bait pellets they find, unlike other bird species. Point Blue field tests and wildlife service have demonstrated remarkable success using hazing techniques. Although there may be some uptake by gulls of rodenticide bait, modeling suggests that it won’t be enough to have a significant impact on the island gull population.
The California Coastal Commission is going to examine whether the restoration of the Farallones proposed by the California Coastal Commission is in line with the state’s coastal management plan. We believe it is, and urge the commission’s approval.
This project met all requirements for planning and review. It has an unrivalled reputation for conservation. The Farallones ecosystem is in crisis and there is a safe and effective way to save it. It is now that the islands can be restored, while we still have the opportunity.
Manuel Oliva, chief executive officer of Point Blue Conservation Science, is Manuel Oliva.