Berkeley Council Vote on "Squirrelgate" Saves Animals from Lethal Fate

Berkeley Council Vote on "Squirrelgate" Saves Animals from Lethal Fate


Contact: Anja Heister,, 406-544-5727

Berkeley Council Vote on “Squirrelgate” Saves Animals from Lethal Fate

Berkeley, Calif. (March 27, 2014) – In Defense of Animals (IDA), an international animal protection organization based in San Rafael, California, is praising Berkeley City Council’s decision not to move forward with a highly controversial plan to kill ground squirrels, which are a keystone species, and gophers at Cesar Chavez Park.

Berkeley proposed the plan to kill burrowing animals at the park because of erosion issues detected by the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB). However, the proposal was a misguided reaction presented by the City Manager to the Council despite the fact that the RWQCB had neither detected any damage caused by ground squirrels and gophers, nor were they requiring the City to kill these animals. The “pilot plan” lacked any scientific analysis of the issue, didn’t allow for nonlethal methods, and didn’t consider other species that might be impacted, like the federally protected Burrowing Owl, which also resides in the park and depends on ground squirrel burrows for nesting.

IDA reached out to its members to stop the ill-conceived proposal and over 80,000 e-mails were sent to Berkeley City Councilmembers and other staff. A second controversy erupted when IDA learned that a few thousand emails generated by their supporters were deleted by Berkeley city staff, in what is now being called “Squirrelgate”.

At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, dedicated residents and animal activists waited patiently for more than 3 ½ hours for the opportunity to urge the City Council not to kill the ground squirrels and gophers residing at Cesar Chavez Park. Council got the message and put the proposal on hold pending more research and hopefully public input.

“We all spoke in one voice stating that there is absolutely no place for violence against these innocent animals at Cesar Chavez Park,” said Anja Heister, director of IDA’s Wild and Free – Habitats Campaign. Heister added, “instead, we pointed out the need for an integrated management plan that includes habitat modification to make certain areas less attractive to burrowing animals, an effective public education campaign to discourage feeding these animals, and possible implementation of a wildlife contraception plan.”

Cesar Chavez, the namesake of the park where the killing was to occur, was not only a human rights activist, but also championed the rights of animals. Dr. Elliot Katz, founder of IDA, presented Cesar Chavez with the In Defense of Animals Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992. “Cesar strongly believed that cruelty and violence are made from the same fabric,” Katz said. He added, “this outcome would have pleased Cesar Chavez, who, throughout his life, spoke for respect for all life, and speaking out against the cruelty to animals for food, science, fashion, and entertainment.”