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National Park Service considers raccoon removal from South Core Banks

By George Olsen


National Park Service considers raccoon removal from South Core Banks

New Bern, NC – INTRO - The National Park Service is taking public comment on a proposal for a one-time removal of a portion of the raccoon population on South Core Banks to see if that might help the survival rate of shorebird and sea turtle nestings. George Olsen has more.

In a lot of respects, the status of shorebirds at Cape Lookout National Seashore is as good as it's been in a long time.

00:49 We have the federally threatened piping plover which we've been studying since about 1990. Population of plovers when we started studying was in the mid-30s, around 35-39 pairs. It dropped down to about 13 pairs about 3 years ago and now has gone back up after Hurricane Isabel and the habitat created by Hurricane Isabel has gone up to 44-45 pairs.

Michael Ricard is the resource management specialist for Cape Lookout National Seashore. The Cape Lookout Seashore is also nesting area for several other shorebirds including the American Oystercatcher, as well as sea turtles, primarily loggerheads. But despite the increase in adult pairs at Cape Lookout, there is concern about potential problems ahead.

03:29 Even though the number of adult pairs have improved, or at least gone up we were really concerned when the number went down to 13 the productivity of all shorebirds is pretty low at Cape Lookout. When I say productivity I mean how many chicks live to fledge, and fledge means old enough to fly. With plovers that's about 28 days. The productivity for most all our shorebirds is somewhere around it's less than 1 chick per adult pair, and some years it's as low as .25 chicks per adult pair.

So toward the end of doing something to give shorebird and sea turtle nests better odds, the Park Service is considering a partial one-time removal of the Seashore's primary mammalian predator the raccoon to see what affect that has on shorebird and sea turtle nest productivity.

10:45. We're looking at a one-time removal of approximately 50% of the population to see how that 1) affects productivity for the shorebirds and the sea turtles, to see if reducing the raccoon population actually helps them, and looking at how quickly that population will respond, how quickly the raccoon population will respond and return to its original level.

The one-time raccoon removal would take place only on South Core Banks, whose raccoon population Ricard estimates as 300. The raccoons would be live-trapped, then euthanized and transported to the N-C State Veterinary School to look for disease and the overall condition of the population. Assuming the Park Service plan passes state and federal review, Ricard says they hope to start trapping raccoons in the late fall or early winter of this year giving nesting shorebirds and sea turtles one season where, if not predator free, at least predator-lite.

13:50 Based on how they reproduce they wouldn't populate in a number of months. They wouldn't be reproducing until the spring and summer again, so those young wouldn't be out foraging and eating until late summer some time so we'd at least have one nesting season before the raccoons are reproducing and repopulating the area.

Ricard adds removing raccoons from Cape Lookout National Seashore wouldn't remove predatory risks to shorebird and sea turtle nests. Other predators such as ghost crabs, the occasional mink and avian predators also populate the Seashore. Another predator of sorts visits the island man and with the shorebirds nesting flat on the ground, anyone walking through a nesting area can disturb or even destroy nests. And man is a sidebar in the discussion about removing raccoons because of some complaints from those camping at the undeveloped Seashore.

03:29 Not only are we having problems with raccoons predating shorebird nests, even the visitors are now having problems with raccoons trying to get into the cabins, getting into their eating areas, the public is feeding them, so there are a number of problems we are having with the raccoons.

Ricard doesn't think the raccoon population alone is what's affecting sea turtle and shorebird productivity he mentioned a nor'easter in May resulted in the loss of shorebird nests, in addition to other predators but the raccoon is the largest mammalian predator at the Seashore, and, unlike the weather, something they can control. The Park Service is taking public comment on their proposal until September 19th. I'm George Olsen.