An emergency petition to list the Anacapa deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus anacapae) under the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act was filed Oct. 29 by the Fund for Animals and the Channel Islands Animal Protection Association.
These and other environmental groups became alarmed last year after the National Park Service (NPS) announced their plan to eradicate the non-native black rat (Rattus rattus) from the island. Known as the Anacapa Restoration Project, the process encompassed a two-part plan to air drop rat poison over all three islets of Anacapa Island. The poison, brodifacoum, causes animals to bleed internally for 3 to 10 days before dying. Environmentalists were concerned the pesticide would wipeout the entire population of the deer mice along with the black rats. The deer mouse subspecies exists only on the Anacapa islets.
Michael Markarian, president of the Fund for Animals, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would either accept or decline the petition within 90 days of its filing.
The project targeted the black rat because island researchers said it posed a threat to the rare sea bird species, Xantus murrelet. Phase one targeted East Anacapa Islet and was implemented in December of 2001. The intention was to monitor the efficiency of the bait and determine any adverse affects it might have on non-target animals. Phase two was enacted Nov. 1, 2002 -completing the project by dispersing the bait on the middle and west islets.
Markarian said his fears became reality when the NPS affirmed all deer mice on the east islet – an estimated 11,000 – were exterminated as a result of phase one. He said only 175 deer mice were saved by being placed in captivity before the poisoning, despite the recommended number of 333 by the NPS geneticist to prevent mutations and other genetic alterations.
Consequently, the Fund for Animals, along with other environmental groups, worked to stop the NPS from following through with phase two, in order to save the remaining deer mice. NPS commenced with phase two despite all efforts to stop the eradication, including the petitioning of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, which has not yet responded. The NPS is still awaiting results of the environmental impact report.
Markarian said if the petition passes the deer mouse will have greater protection from future poisonings, though he fears it may be to late.
Markarian also said the NPS carried out the project carelessly. He said the poisoning of the island was indiscriminate to specific species. Along with the deer mice, other non-targeted species died, such as owls and migratory and native birds. Dolphins and other marine animals could be affected as well, he said. After the heavy rain of this past week, poisonous pellets could have been washed into the ocean.
“[The NPS] has this fervor to kill black rats without any concern for the consequences,” Markarian said. “They have created an ecological disaster … The [NPS] has been acting under the cover of darkness.”
A representative from the NPS could not be reached for comment.