The city of Berkeley is wrapped up in a very Berkeley-esque mixup after a plan to eradicate the ground squirrels and gophers at Cesar Chavez Park was met with an outpouring of backlash. Much to the chagrin of the animal rights groups that stood up for these witless woodland creatures, that outpouring of support only ended up in the city's spam filter.
This whole controversy started back in 2009 when the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Control Board ordered the city of Berkeley to look into thinning out the dray of squirrels at the waterfront park. The squirrels and gophers are literally poking holes in the clay barrier that separates the grassy park and the bay from the "1.9 million tons of residential, industrial and commercial waste" that make up landfill the park is built on. According to the water board, the burrowing may have allowed some toxins to spill out into the bay.
Naturopathic extermination methods like luring in owls and rodent-eating raptors haven't worked, so the city hired a pest control firm to look into methods that are less dependent on the food chain. The firm hasn't revealed how they planned to kill off the park squirrels, but any threat to the local fauna naturally set off some backlash from local animal rights groups like In Defense of Animals, who organized an email campaign to ask the Berkeley city council members to pardon the rodents.
That email campaign resulted in 81,000 emails — all identical form letters — that were blasted to 14 people in Berkeley's city hall over a week at the end of February and beginning of March. That volume of email set off the spam filter, which automatically deleted them without a trace. From the Chronicle:
"It wasn't 81,000 e-mails. It was one e-mail sent 81,000 times," [City spokesman Matthai] Chakko said, adding that the e-mails could have gummed up the city's network, including police and fire operations. "Staff should have quarantined them, but they deleted them. It was a mistake."
Although the "it got lost in my spam filter" excuse is always a good one, City Manager Christine Daniel apologized to the council for saving them the headache of deleting 81,000 identical emails. But Berkeley's zealous animal rights defenders suspect some foul play:
"I find it awkward, to say the least, that when an animal issue generates so much public interest, the city of Berkeley deletes the public's input," said Anja Heister, a spokeswoman for [In Defense of Animals]. "It strikes us as very suspicious."
Regardless of the email snafu, the local chapter of the Audubon Society claims the plan could also mess with the population of burrowing owls — a "species of special concern." And none of the animals are going anywhere fast. According to City Councilman Kriss Worthington, the whole thing needs to be squirreled away (sorry) while the city can look into alternatives.