Tiny mice could cause big upset on Farallon Islands


For San Franciscans, they are forbidden islands. They are so close to the city and yet so far. Not everyone gets to The Farallons because it is closed to the public.

But with an autumn sunrise behind us and 27 miles of open sea ahead, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service made an exception on Thursday, for a select group of reporters who saw a place so rough and raw that to land, we boarded a small boat, were plucked from the water by crane, carried though open air, and placed on a dock. They have done it this way for more than a century.

Up close, you can see how The Farallons consist of crumbly granite. The 70 acres of main island are a foreboding place, manned year round by five naturalists from the Point Reyes Bird Observatory. They live in an old house.

"No cars, no traffic, no ambient noise from people," said intern Elizabeth Ames.

At the house, there are just research logs and what's left of a zodiac boat after shark bite, mounted on the wall. It makes one question if it is a trophy or a warning.

Before men first landed on The Farallons in 1810, the place was teeming with wildlife. First, they went for the pelts of the sea lions, then the eggs of the shore birds, and by 1900 the area was decimated.

Now, life is coming back, but not exactly as planned. The Farallons have become over-run with common house mice, some 500 to an acre.

The Marin Independent Journal caught a picture of one of the mice. The mice are problematic because they attract owls, which then remain on the island to feast on ashy storm-petrels which are tiny, hearty birds that have been in decline. A naturalist showed us a live petrel and a collection of dead ones. The best solution is to eradicate all of the mice.

When asked what happens when you get rid of all of the mice, researcher Pete Warzybock explained then "we reduce the number of owls that over-winter on the island that reduces predation on storm petrels".

Hopefully, the ecosystem of The Farallons our descendents see will be similar to those our forefathers ruined. Whatever the work in progress becomes it will not be for a lack of effort.

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