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BEACH: RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA

Birds' Fate Ruffles Feathers Needlessly

November 06, 1998|ESTHER SCHRADER

A South County golf club's move to sedate and relocate about 350 birds that officials say have become pests drew protests Thursday from about half a dozen animal rights activists who mistakenly believed the birds were poisoned.

Officials at the Tijeras Creek Golf Club in Rancho Santa Margarita hired an animal removal company to sedate the coots and relocate them to state and national sanctuaries. The transfer was supervised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But when area residents walking the course in the morning saw the birds lose consciousness, they called environmentalists to protest what they thought was the poisoning of the birds.

Before the day was out, Orange County sheriff's deputies were called to the scene, television news helicopters hovered over the golf course and residents came out of their homes to watch.

"All they see are the birds dropping over, they see us throwing feed out and they think, 'Oh my God they're poisoning the birds,' " said Jerry Ramirez, assistant general manager of the golf course. "We showed them the permits [allowing the sedation and removal of the birds] but they didn't want to hear it. . . . It just snowballed from there."

Large populations of the small black water birds have long caused headaches for golf course operators in Southern California, where most natural wetlands have been destroyed by development. The grass and ponds of golf courses provide a perfect habitat for the birds.

Many golf courses remove the birds legally by applying for permits to shoot or poison them. But Tijeras Creek club officials said they chose a more humane method.

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