Of Rats and Squirrels

Concern Raised Over Varmints in City Parks

Concern about the proliferation of squirrels ​— ​not to mention a few rats ​— ​in Santa Barbara city parks bubbled to the surface during what is normally a pro forma annual report on Santa Barbara’s integrated pest management program. Councilmembers Frank Hotchkiss and Bendy White expressed concern that squirrels were getting the upper hand in city parks and open spaces along the waterfront by Laguna Street and on the ocean side of Chase Palm Park and at Shoreline Park. “It feels to me we’re losing the battle,” declared White, who expressed concern that school playing fields ​— ​with which City Hall has a shared maintenance agreement ​— ​are so pock-marked with rodent holes that they pose a health risk to kids playing on them.

Pest control manager Santos Escobar took umbrage with the criticism, stating that after an intense eradication effort, he had brought the squirrel population of Shoreline Park to just three. This prompted Mayor Helene Schneider to query, “Do you know the three by name?” Not amused, Escobar replied, “I don’t know their names,” after providing a detailed description of the great lengths to which he’d gone, including the use of birds of prey. Those, he noted, proved not so effective.

Escobar complained that some residents insist on feeding squirrels despite the fact that they, like rats, are classified as “varmints.” For him to avail himself of chemical agents, Escobar said, he’d have to get a waiver from his advisory board, which meets only four times a year. Councilmember Cathy Murillo sought to assuage whatever offense Escobar had taken by praising his program and describing the annual report as “fantastic reading.”

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