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Control of Coots Helps Keep Lake Safe for Swimmers

January 19, 1992

An article appeared in the Dec. 27 Los Angeles Times regarding the measures used at Lake Mission Viejo to control the coot population ("Coots in Need of a Friend"). The article left the impression that coots were being indiscriminately shot in an annual eradication effort. To understand the situation facing our association, further background information is necessary.

As a point of departure for any discussion of this matter, it must first be understood and accepted that Lake Mission Viejo is a facility that supports a variety of recreational activities, including swimming. In that particular respect, Lake Mission Viejo is unique when compared to other recreational or aesthetic lakes in the Orange County area. It is necessary to take steps to maintain an acceptable water quality for the members using Lake Mission Viejo for swimming and other water sport activities.

In accomplishing the requirement to maintain a safe water quality, it is necessary to control bird populations at the lake. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues the lake association a depredation permit specifically to control the number of coots on the lake. Unless that is accomplished, Lake Mission Viejo is at risk of losing swimming as a major recreational use.

The coot, also known as the mud hen or marsh hen, is a very prolific bird that deposits a significant amount of excrement into the water. That excrement causes a significant impact on the nutrient and bacterial levels in the lake. Our primary concern is with the potential health problems the birds present.

Golf courses and other park areas control the coot numbers because they feed on fairways and grass areas. Presently, we use the same generally accepted control methods to address our concerns as those used by golf courses and other recreational park facilities and approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I put emphasis on the word control because in no way should anyone construe our efforts as steps to eradicate these birds from the lake and surrounding docks, beach or picnic areas.

Since Lake Mission Viejo first opened 14 years ago, we have sought alternative solutions to the problems created by these birds and have solicited the advice of several conservation and environmental groups and government agencies. Most of the obvious suggestions for capture and relocation or other control methods have been investigated and considered. We remain open to further suggestions in the event something will be discovered that is a possible and practical alternative to current control methods.

Again, the primary reason for the efforts to control the coot population at Lake Mission Viejo is to ensure the water remains safe for the use and enjoyment of the lake association's membership.

MARTIN R. BENDER, President, Lake Mission Viejo Assn.

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