San Francisco’s Farallon Islands Are Under Seige

Some 60,000 mice have invaded the National Wildlife Refuge. What to do?

  • Share
  • Read Later
John Foxx / Getty Images

Just a few miles off the coast of San Francisco, on a small series of islands known as the Farallons, a difficult decision is being made. As a plague of rodents takes over, the government has decided that its best option is either to shoot poison pellets from a helicopter, or, to do nothing at all.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Farallon Islands are believed to have the densest rodent population in the world. The mice are not native to the island, but are believed to have come over on ships more than 100 years ago.

If the best choices are either doing nothing or dropping poisoned pellets that cause bleeding to death (which is basically how Zyklon B pellets used in Nazi concentration camps worked), then one can only imagine how bad the other contenders were. One plan involved releasing snakes onto the island, so it doesn’t seem far off to imagine that other plans may have involved releasing scorpions, or, possibly, releasing even bigger mice to get rid of the smaller mice.

The problem with the poison method is that it endangers the island’s other wildlife, primarily marine birds. To avoid such damage, scientists would use a very advance shoo-ing method to scare the birds and get them to leave island. The islands are, and have always been, the home of hundreds of thousands of animal species, many of whom would suffer if the poison bomb plan were enacted. With this in mind, animal and wildlife protection groups have advocated for the do-nothing plan.

The infestation has also allowed the mice to act as pollen vectors for invasive plants that are taking over the island almost as quickly as the rodents have. The mice have also started to deplete the food supply of salamanders on the island. This, on top of the fact that very idea of 60,000 mice is a disgusting one, makes the Apocalypse Now plan seem rather appealing. After all, the mice are a decidedly invasive species on the islands.

This is not the first time the United States has been faced with such a problem. Last year Michigan’s Great Lakes had an infestation of Asian carp—a sort of fish that is able to fly more than 5 feet in the air onto boats, and who are able to eat half their weight in local fish, causing an environmental and economic fiasco. The problem has yet to be fully resolved, but scientists are trying to develop a poison that affects only the Asian carp. Another, perhaps more hilarious problem, is a population of South African baboons who have acquired a taste for fermented grapes, and who perpetrate violent crimes such as breaking into homes and cars while under the influence.  There is no foreseeable solution to this problem, but authorities have instituted a three strike policy: if a baboon is caught drunk three times, it is euthanized.

The problem on the Farallon Islands is more complicated. Mice aren’t harassing tourists and pelting children with fruit, the way the baboons have done, and they’re not jumping ten feet in the air and biting fishermen. They’re a local nuisance, and the way to get rid of them may very well mean the end for the very animals that need protection from the rodent plague.

It seems that the do-nothing plan has its own advantages—eventually the mice will mean the death of other animals, simply by running them out of town. The helicopter poison plan, on the other hand, will likely lead to immediate death both of the rodents and the other animals.

 Another way to look at the problem is to realize that for decades the Islands were used as a nuclear-waste dumping site, so the animals living on it may very well be dead soon anyway, or completely immune to poison to begin with.

5 comments
cosmicaug
cosmicaug

No, Zyklon-B was not a warfarin like compound. Zyklon-B released hydrogen cyanide.

StevenTowers
StevenTowers

I feel like my IQ dropped 20 points while reading this article.

Article:  "If the best choices are either doing nothing or dropping poisoned pellets that cause bleeding to death....then one can only imagine how bad the other contenders were. One plan involved releasing snakes onto the island, so it doesn’t seem far off to imagine that other plans may have involved releasing scorpions...."

Or, one could just read the list of alternatives that were screened and not carried forward for analysis in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. 

Article:  "The islands are, and have always been, the home of hundreds of thousands of animal species....."

Only if we're counting bacteria as animal species.

Article:  "This is not the first time the United States has been faced with such a problem. Last year Michigan’s Great Lakes had an infestation of Asian carp—a sort of fish that is able to fly more than 5 feet in the air onto boats, and who are able to eat half their weight in local fish, causing an environmental and economic fiasco."

The author later decides that this jumping species of carp (silver carp) jump 10 feet through the air and bite fishermen.  Just one little problem: Silver carp have not been detected in the Great Lakes.  Their eDNA have been found in the waterways of Chicago, and there is debate over how their eDNA got there.  The concern is that they will make their way from the Mississippi River system into the Great Lakes, but they have not been directly detected in the lakes.

But it's the last paragraph that stands alone as one of the most breathtakingly stupid, logic-free closing paragraphs in the history of science journalism — a paragraph that would cement an "F" if this were the essay of an 8th-grade science student.  The islands were once dumping grounds for radioactive waste, so it stands to reason that: (1) maybe the population of house mice that have been thriving on the island for hundreds of generations will all be dead soon anyway; or (2) maybe they've mutated into invincible, poison-immune super mice!

Jesus God, that was awful.


John-JackHolland
John-JackHolland

The last paragraph maybe the dumbest thing I read all day, and I have been reading a lot of articles on the GOP. .

karen.carver
karen.carver

They need to start introducing food with contraception medication in it, and start releasing infertile mice into the population. They've had to do this with other species in other countries in the last few decades. Yes, since there are so many, it will take years to succeed, but it will eventually work as long as they keep the food going and keep throwing in infertile mice.  Or introduce a disease which only affects mice. Then they will start dying out at a faster rate. I suppose they could become resistant, but as long as it's a hard and fast disease, and they are on the island, it should affect no US mice inland.