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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, May 17, 2024


The National Park Service is asking visitors to Buck Island Reef National Monument to become allies in the agency's war on rats.
An ongoing effort by federal biologists to rid the island of non-native rats will be helped considerably if visitors to the island adhere to Park Service's "pack it in, pack it out" trash policy, said Zandy Hillis-Starr, the Park Service's natural resource manager.
To help control the rats, and consequently protect endangered sea turtle nests, hatchlings and other fragile flora and fauna, the Park Service in August 1999 removed trash cans from Buck Island. But, said Hillis-Starr, while the public has for the most part packed out its trash, some is still being left behind in picnic areas.
And that gives tenacious rats a foothold on the island, she said: "We cannot provide any food sources for the rats."
Rats, accidentally introduced to the West Indies, have no natural predators, according to Hillis-Starr. On most offshore islands they can become so numerous they will devastate both native plants and animal populations.
Last year, to reduce the rat impact on sea turtle and bird nests and hatchlings, not to mention the disturbance to visitors, the island's Division of Resource Management, working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, began baiting the picnic areas and the shoreline, where the rat population is thickest.
The project will help reduce the population from the present number — 50 to 75 per acre on some 200 acres — to perhaps that many on the entire island.
"They aren't going to have the impact they had," Hillis-Starr said. "We can get them down so they are scattered."
The project is succeeding, she said, but the cooperation of visitors is necessary if that is to continue.
Meanwhile, Hillis-Starr reminded the public that dogs are prohibited on Buck Island. Not only can dogs digging in the sand disturb turtle nests, but the bait used in the rat eradication program is toxic to small mammals.
For more information, call 773-1460.

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