- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2005

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workers have seen many more foxes this spring on Craney Island, a 2,500-acre habitat of material dredged from Hampton Roads Harbor that is popular with wildlife, and they worry that things could get ugly.

The foxes could eat the young of the six pairs of least terns, a threatened species, that built nests there.

The corps isn’t versed in wildlife management, so it contracted with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services for predator management, said corps civil engineer Robert Pruhs.

But the method used to reduce the fox population has animal rights activists upset.

The Agriculture Department has trapped 22 foxes in a three-week project that ended this month, Mr. Pruhs said, and there are still several foxes on the island.

?Our goal was to try and restore balance so the birds will have a fighting chance to be successful,? he said.

Stephanie Boyles, a wildlife biologist with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said PETA supports protecting endangered wildlife but that predators must be considered, too.

If traps have to be used, they should be cages rather than leg-hold traps that inflict a lot of pain, she said, and, if possible, the animals should be relocated rather than put to death.

?If you relocate a fox, you have a chance of relocating a disease such as rabies,? said David Parry, an Agriculture Department spokesman in the District.

Mr. Pruhs said the corps had seen an increase in the number of foxes approaching people, which can indicate the animal is diseased.

The Agriculture Department used leg-hold traps ?because they’re the most effective? in catching foxes, Mr. Parry said.

The traps are padded and therefore cause less pain, said a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Lara Bainbridge, a naturalist who volunteers with the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, also questioned the use of leg-hold traps but acknowledged that it’s difficult to catch the sly fox.

?This is a very tough issue — how much we interfere,? she said.

Least terns are ground nesters, which makes them vulnerable to animals such as foxes and rats that will snatch their eggs or chicks.

Craney Island’s mixture of sand with shells and pebbles appeals to them for nests, Mr. Pruhs said.

This is the first time the corps has acted to manage the island’s wildlife; Mr. Pruhs thought it was necessary because the terns are a threatened species.

And that’s not all.

?If the foxes are harassing them constantly, it will drive them out of the area,? Mr. Pruhs said. He said the corps has seen the least-tern population dwindle in the past.

Julia Dixon, spokeswoman for state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, had no trouble with her choice of nesting birds over Craney’s red foxes.

?The foxes are not native,? she said.

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