Clearing an endangered woodrat’s nest off a lot

Posted by on Thu, July 29, 2004

Photo by Anonymous
Now you see it...
Photo by Anonymous you don't.

An El Granada resident has posted a series of photographs that show a crew clearing a lot of vegetation and, ultimately, a nest of what was probably a San Francisco dusky-footed woodrat.

The photos are a rare opportunity to see a bit of the local wildlife in the process of being wiped out. The photos show the lot being cleared, the nest in the middle of the newly-created clearing, and the same clearing without the nest. According to the person posting the photos, the lot was surveyed and the woodrat nests marked before the lot was cleared. He described the area as riparian habitat on the banks of a year-round creek.

San Francisco dusky-footed woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes annectens) listed by the California Fish and Wildlife Service as a "federal endangered and threatened species that may be affected by projects in Santa Clara County". 

Coincidentally, this woodrat may be holding up the development of five vacant parcels in San Carlos.

According to the El Granadan, who prefers to remain anonymous, "This lot was cleared four years ago and the willows grew back. This time, they removed the roots."

Little is known about our own Neotoma fuscipes annectens. The California Department of Fish and Game has some information about apparently related Neotoma fuscipes (without the annectens)  and eNature has a nice picture of it.  eNature says:

A [Neotoma fuscipes] nest, often the result of work by several generations of woodrats, is usually occupied by a female and her young, although two females sometimes occupy a single nest."

There are more and larger photos of the cleared lot on the original web site. The photographer has also notified the county and the Coastal Commission in an effort to keep the lot from being sold or built on: "Some people from the Coastal Commission came out and looked at the property, including a biologist. I have also been contacted by someone from [supervisor] Rich Gordon’s office."

Comment 1
Fri, July 30, 2004 11:36am
All my comments

You have got to be kidding me! Rats have more rights than landowners. Utterly amazing!

It’s a lot more complicated than that.

My sense is that the jury is still out on whether the rats are protected.  But the landowner didn’t wait for the verdict.

There’s a long-standing tradition in development of digging holes that can’t be undug and accepting the legal penalties as a cost of doing business. In the close quarters here on the coast, that’s a recipe for chaos. Landowners’ rights have never been absolute, nor should they be.

Having said that, I don’t have an opinion on the dusky-footed woodrat. But I love a good story (especially one with pictures) and what happened here is an interesting story that’s not being told anywhere else.

It matters not if it’s a rat, bird, fish or whatever, it’s an endangered species and it’s protected for a good reason. If these people destroyed it’s nest and habitat they should be punished to the full extent of the law.

The San Pedro Creek Watershed Coalition is currently conducting a Microbial Source Tracking study in which we (or rather our subcontracted labs) are comparing the DNA of E. coli from water samples with libraries of E. coli from fecal matter of suspected host organisms.  Google Microbial Source Tracking to learn more.  One organism we’re still missing fecal matter for is a rat.  I’m getting convinced that the only significant rat around here are actually woodrats (Neotoma, not Rattus).  We would like to collect woodrat scat from the San Pedro Creek watershed, though I think something from nearby should be ok.

This story on woodrat nests leads me to think that someone might be able to lead us to a good woodrat nest candidate where we might be able to collect some scat.  No harm done to the animal or nest; I’m sure they won’t mind the scat removal.


Jerry (or email <email>[email protected]</email>)


Comment 5
Wed, August 23, 2006 11:57pm
Carl May
All my comments

Please, people, you are going to irritate the state and federal wildlife employees to death! Before disturbing these good public servants, try to understand that unless they have some particular, established reason to pay attention, they don’t want to hear from you.

Aside from the good souls who attempt to save us from the burden of knowledge by arguing “a rat is just a rat,” we also know woodrats, in particular, are not to be mentioned to local officials. How do we know this? Over a year ago, a documented woodrat nest was bulldozed away while making a pioneer road for the twin tunnels landfill in Green Valley. Repeated attempts to notify officials resulted in, at best, bureaucratic buck-passing and, at worst, flat refusals to take note. Promised return calls from the agencies were never received. It was never determined whether or not the woodrat nest in question was that of a San Francisco dusky-footed woodrat. There are other woodrat nests in Green Valley that could be checked for probable taxonomic assignment; but, gosh, that would require getting out of a vehicle and walking through brush for a few hundred yards.

And do try to understand that you live in a county where violations of environmental law (the Coastal Act in particular) and regulatory procedures are frequently permitted after the fact if one is in favor with the right officials and politicians in Redwood City. Developers of coastal property obviously enjoy such favor, many being on a first-name basis with planning officials.

Carl May