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Seal Beach Foxes Threatening Rare Birds May Be Shot

April 23, 1986|KRISTINA LINDGREN | Times Staff Writer

To rid the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge of more than 50 red foxes preying on two endangered species of birds, federal wildlife officials are proposing to shoot the foxes with 12-gauge shotguns or snare them in their dens.

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing the plan to stave off destruction of breeding populations of the California least tern and the light-footed clapper rail in the 1,100-acre salt marsh within the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The options are outlined in a report to be released today, according to William Meyer, public affairs officer for the agency's western regional office in Portland. Before a final decision is made to proceed, there will be a 30-day period for public comment on the report.

But after nearly a year of studying the growing problem posed by the non-native red foxes, the agency, Meyer said Tuesday, hopes to take action by mid-June to save the terns and clapper rails, both of which are on the federal list of endangered species.

Opposition Feared

Girding for public opposition to any plan that would harm the intelligent and handsome foxes, Meyer pointed out: "We have a policy on all of our refuges to manage in favor of an endangered species whenever there is a conflict, especially with a non-native animal."

Noting that the breeding season is about to begin--and recalling the disastrous one last year--Meyer added: "We're at the point where we have to fish or cut bait."

The animals have flourished on the secluded base because they are threatened by no natural predator. Coyotes once roamed the 5,000-acre installation, but they disappeared in the mid-1970s after a commanding officer who lost a family pet to one ordered them shot on sight, according to area biologists.

The number of red foxes has soared in recent years, even though they have exhausted the supply of their preferred diet of rabbit, squirrel and other rodents. Now, the normally nocturnal predators are seen stalking the salt marsh and nearby fields in broad daylight.

Two Alternatives

Meyer said the agency report proposes two alternatives: Do nothing or intervene to eliminate the foxes with a host of methods. Those range from shooting the wary animals with 12-gauge shotguns to using snares and traps, especially on any fox kits found in their den. Meyer said young foxes taken from dens would be killed in some "sensitive way" that would not cause pain.

Another idea is to take the captured foxes to zoos or release them in mountainous areas of California, where a similar subspecies of red fox is found. But Meyer said there has been no interest among the zoos contacted. Meanwhile, state wildlife officials adamantly oppose introducing the Seal Beach foxes elsewhere. He said similar opposition could be expected outside the state.

Several of the methods would be used in combination, Meyer said, because no one is likely to solve the entire problem. But if strong opposition emerges to shooting the foxes or some other proposed option, Meyer said the agency may have to rethink its plan.

"If we find that public outcry is something we can't overcome, if we would likely be faced with a restraining order of some sort, then, in order to accomplish our objective of saving the terns and clapper rails, obviously we'd have to go with the least objectionable methods," Meyer said.

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