• ‘Seagull Summit” Lessons, Suggestions

    by Marge Ann Jameson

    Lesson Number One: They are not “seagulls.” They are “Western Gulls.”Gull Guy

    That minute distinction doesn’t negate the fact that they are smelly, noisy, messy, and a potential health hazard. They steal food wherever they can – sometimes right out of children’s hands at lunch hour at the Pacific Grove Middle School – and are fiercely protective of their nests and their young. They prey on other species, some of which are near extinction, and they eat steelhead and oysters in the Monterey Bay Sanctuary. In other parts of Central California, they collide with airplanes, get sucked into jet engines, and swarm landfills.

    Experts estimate that the population of California Gulls in the San Francisco Bay Area has exploded from 24 in 1980 to more than 53,000 in that region alone.

    But they’re also protected under the 1919 Migratory Bird Treaty, and that’s Lesson Number Two. So the drastic measures that might be preferred by some are not to be undertaken. “What’s the fine if I smash an egg or two?” one woman asked at Friday’s so-called Seagull Summit at the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum. “I might be willing to pay the fine.”

    Residents, business owners and property owners gathered to hear potential solutions to what has become a problem all over California and beyond — the population boom in the gull world. The concerned citizens were treated at the summit to a panel of experts, each speaking on a different aspect of the problem as well as offering solutions.

    Wildlife expert Jeffrey B. Froke had an answer to the question of why the birds choose Pacific Grove: “It’s the habitat, stupid!” Wild birds have moved from their natural environment to nest in towns like Pacific Grove because it’s convenient, he said. They find nice, high rooftops on which to nest, safe from predators like cats and coyotes. They perch on parapet roofs, hang their tails over the edge, and … you guessed it. Or maybe you’ve experienced it. A hard-learned Lesson Number Three.

    And then along comes a bus full of tourists, each holding a bag of bread with which they joyfully feed the birds, delighting when they swoop down to grab a piece. Or a bird lover purposely leaves food out for them. Restaurants leave their garbage uncovered, or poorly covered so that the birds can get into it and have a free lunch. And dinner. And a take-out for the nestlings. Well-meaning citizens put their trash and garbage in receptacles provided by the City, with new lids which provide for the separation of recycling, only to find the gulls can still get into the trash cans and spread litter and filth all over the street, some of which get blown by sea breezes directly into the bay.

    Michael Bekker of Cannery Row Company and the American Tin Cannery said those lids won’t work. Cannery Row, he says, have a new type which mitigates the problem of gulls getting into the trash. He also talked about some of the lengths to which his companies have gone to mitigate the seagull problem.

    More than creating a nuisance, the birds can cause expensive damage by nesting on roofs. Their detritus gathers in corners and in filters, drain sprouts, gutters and scuppers. Bekker has employees whose sole job it is to clean up after the birds – bones, feathers, sticks, dead birds, and more, which he says can cause thousands of dollars of damage to HVAC systems, and eventually cost 10 years of life on a roof.

    Bekker talked of preventing the birds from nesting in the first place, and suggested some ways property owners can discourage them. Wires along the parapets, netting on the roof which makes the birds “uncomfortable,” and the now-familiar spikes on the birds’ favorite perches. He talked about an invention called a “spider” which, again, makes the birds uncomfortable on rooftops. [The spider can be found at www.BirdBGone.com, where they are available in various sizes.]

    “But all I do is move them,” said Bekker. The real answer is to remove their food source. Less food, less babies. And they’ll nest in a different place.

    The third expert called in was Sarah Hardgrave, the City of Pacific Grove Environmental Programs Manager. She had some good news for the group: Over a period of months, she has worked with governmental agencies on compliance with the Clean Water Act and finally has won permission to allow pressure washing in the downtown area because of the current efforts to connect the storm drain diversion system to a treatment plant which will clean the water up. The work on the diversion system is evidenced by sewer work undertaken near the American Tin Cannery, which is expected to be complete in upcoming months.

    No dry weather discharges are allowed into the Bay as it is an Area of Special Biological Significance, unless allowed by the city under “best management practices.” Hardgrave asked the public to call Public Works at 831-648-5722 to learn whether the property they seek to pressure wash is located in the drain area.

    There is no City funding for cleaning the area. Under City code, each property owner is responsible for their own building and the sidewalks around it. And the charter for the Business Improvement District expressly forbids that body from spending money on maintenance, repair, or cleaning. But that’s where another part of the solution might come in, said former mayor Dan Cort.

    Cort suggested that a true cooperative effort should be undertaken to find solutions to the problem, for the good of all. And he put his money where is mouth is, offering a $5,000 match if others would offer funds to help clean up the gull mess and cooperate to provide signage discouraging feeding of wildlife and perhaps other mitigating efforts.

    Nesting season lasts from early March to late August in Pacific Grove. Until the baby gulls fledge and fly off, not much can be done about the rooftops but the sidewalks and awnings can be cleaned. When the season is over, there will hopefully be a blooming of “spiders” on rooftops and skylights, netting on roofs and wires on parapets.


    posted to Cedar Street Times on August 8, 2013

    Topics: Front PG News, Marge Ann Jameson


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