NEWPORT BEACH : Father, Son Out to Save Squirrels

David Prather and his 13-year-old son, Reuel, are on a holiday crusade.

Their mission is to rescue as many squirrels as they can from a Newport Beach construction site by Christmas Day.

Officials at Laguna Hills-based developer Taylor Woodrow Homes California Ltd., which is building homes on the property, have agreed to let the two set traps to catch the animals but said that grading of the 27-acre site will resume promptly Dec. 26.

"We wouldn't normally accommodate [trapping], but . . . we aren't going to make any huge headway on the Friday before Christmas," said Adrian Foley, site manager for the home builder.

Prather, director of Christo-Coast Earth Club in Costa Mesa, said he has only five traps but will stay at the site from dawn to dusk, catching as many animals as possible.

"We're not here to make a show, we're here to save a colony of thousands of squirrels," he said Thursday as he put a bait mix of peanuts and sunflower seeds in a trap.

He said he will set the animals free on an undeveloped plot of land next to the construction site.

Troy Kelly, a biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game, said he agreed to allow the trapping for 24 hours as long as the developer and landowner, the Irvine Co., agreed. He said it was unclear if they would allow the Prathers to trap through the weekend.

Foley of Taylor Woodrow said he did not give the Prathers access to the property beyond today but added that, as long as state officials do not mind, he will not interfere with the trapping through Christmas Day.

Prather, a 51-year-old freelance writer, said he was spurred to action Monday when he saw several bright yellow earth-movers grading the bluff at 16th Street and Dover Drive, a habitat for the brown, burrowing squirrels.

Calls to city officials, the Fish and Game Department and the Irvine Co. got him nowhere, Prather said. So he and his son made protest signs and picketed the site. By Tuesday afternoon, Prather said, Foley had agreed to allow trapping on areas not already under construction.

Prather said the project will "cost us about $1,000 and our Christmas, but . . . it's a well-entrenched social structure of animals that is enjoyed by the community."

Prather said he and his son would welcome any volunteers who want to help with the squirrel relocation through the weekend. Information: (714) 645-9829.

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