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Pesky Problem : It’s Del Mar Versus Ground Squirrels in the Battle of the Bluffs

Times Staff Writer

This seacoast city has declared war on colonies of pesky little ground squirrels that have taken up residence in the ocean bluffs and are burrowing out condominiums complete with ocean views.

The battle is not as one-sided as it would seem.

City Manager Bob Nelson, who convinced Del Mar City Council members to spend $2,800 for a county survey of the ground squirrel problem, admitted the tiny varmints have made many friends and have become adept at panhandling from residents and tourists alike.

It’s not going to be an easy task to evict the freeloaders, Nelson said. But, he warned, the squirrels are more than attractive nuisances. Their bluff-burrowing habits are honey-combing the coastal cliffs, threatening to undermine residents’ blufftop homes and the city’s oceanfront property, Seagrove Park.

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County health officials confirmed Thursday that Del Mar’s request for aid in eradicating the unwanted rodents is being processed and will be presented to the Board of Supervisors for consideration next week. If the request is approved, county vector control crews will survey the rodent population and make recommendations for the animals’ removal.

Moise Mizrahi, who heads the vector control effort, said that Del Mar may opt to hire county crews for the eradication if the rodent problem is severe enough to pose a threat to humans.

Mizrahi stressed that the county crews have the expertise to remove rodents and other vectors--carriers of disease that can be harmful to humans, such as bubonic plague. But, he added, the county does not exterminate squirrels or pigeons because “one man’s problem may be another man’s pleasure.”

He said he expects to find a rodent problem in Del Mar but in the form of roof rats which thrive in the damp coastal climate and lush vegetation of affluent coastal cities.

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The county Agriculture Department may be more helpful in dealing with Del Mar’s ground squirrel infestation, a county Health Department spokeswoman said.

Ray Rinder, assistant agricultural commissioner, said his department makes available, at cost, a poison which eradicates both ground squirrels and roof rats without endangering pets and humans. The department includes instructions for use of the chemical, Diphacin, but does not do the actual extermination.

The poison is placed in bait traps which are placed in the area in such a way that dogs or small children are not able to get at it, Rinder said. The poison works slowly and takes several doses before it causes internal bleeding and death, he said. Because it requires several doses, Diphacin will not harm dogs or cats that might kill and eat one of the ground squirrels, he added.

Rinder said that the poison may be purchased commercially or may be obtained at any county agricultural office at 50 cents a pound. He did not have any suggestions for Nelson on where to find someone to administer the poison.

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