Debate Over Squirrels Dips Underground

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They're just small rodents with long bushy tails. But an apparently grounded campaign to save the squirrel population at Antelope Valley College nonetheless has the people there acting kind of, well, squirrelly.

There was supposed to be a sort of showdown Monday night at the regular meeting of the community college district's Board of Trustees over the college administration's efforts to exterminate the school's ground squirrels because of the holes they dig on campus. Squirrel proponents had promised to deliver piles of petitions to save the rascally rodents, but that plan fizzled.

And college administrators aren't saying exactly what they will do next.

"The next time the holes get severe, the board will sit down with administration and talk the subject over," said board President Don Ross. He said the college probably will continue exterminating its squirrels, but promised that alternatives such as trapping and releasing would be considered.

The rodent wrangle began late last year with a local newspaper article on the college's long-running, routine extermination efforts. That led to complaints by some faculty and students that the college was acting inhumanely, and prompted letters of protest from the public.

Now, however, both sides seem to have gone to ground. Faculty member Joseph Towe, who first raised the complaints, did not attend Monday's meeting. Autumn Kline, the student who had promised to round up the petitions, did not return phone calls. And the college's grounds maintenance chief was keeping mum as well.

College spokesman Steve Standerfer said he, also, would much rather be talking about some other issue. But Standerfer defended the college's use of underground gas bombs to control its ground squirrel population, saying they can pose a health hazard--they carry fleas that can transmit plague and other diseases--and their burrowing damages property.

Still, trustees on Monday night were read a letter from Towe protesting the college's periodic squirrel killings as cruel. The letter concluded, "Any major institution of higher learning would be embarrassed by a groundskeeping policy which regards campus wildlife as a nuisance."

Bob McMahan, president of the college's Academic Senate, read the letter at Towe's request, but later confessed his heart just wasn't in it. McMahan recalled hunting squirrels as a boy growing up in a logger's family and his mother cooking them in a tasty stew.

"It's not my crusade," he said.

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