City may step in to stop vulture killings
By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
CRYSTAL RIVER -- The racket atop his Woodland Estates home has become an unwelcome part of Paul Sasada's morning ritual.
When the thumping begins, the 72-year-old breaks from his coffee and toast and reaches for the nearest cookware.
The vultures are back for another round.
Standing on his lawn, Sasada bangs a pot and pan to scare the birds from his roof and the screen covering his pool.
His effort works, but the hefty black birds will return another day. "They are persistent as hell," said Sasada, who has spent $1,200 to replace one screen enclosure.
Sasada can sympathize with his new neighbors, who have tried just about everything to shoo the vultures. They have used firecrackers and lasers. They lined their screen with metal spikes.
"We're not dealing with half a dozen. We're dealing with hundreds," said Mindy Hastings, who moved to Woodland Estates in February and is already on her second screen. The subdivision is west of U.S. 19, not far from the Crystal River Mall.
Hastings wants to up the ante. She has obtained a federal permit to shoot 10 black vultures and five turkey vultures. Research has shown that hanging a dead buzzard or two may deter others from tempting the same fate.
But before Hastings oils a rifle, she has to get city approval. A local ordinance prohibits shooting a firearm within city limits. The federal permit does not supersede state or local law.
City officials are not keen on the idea, not only because it could pose safety concerns, but because the shooting could set a precedent for other residents of the subdivision, which abuts Crystal River State Buffer Preserve, home to many wild hogs.
"I just can't allow it," said police Chief Jim Farley, who on Monday night will ask the City Council to reject the idea of a temporary ordinance allowing the shooting.
"It's a problem, certainly," Farley acknowledged. "There's no easy solution, but I don't think extermination is the answer. Vultures play a big role in our environment. They're nature's sanitation department."
Hastings can shoot a gun but said she would be perfectly fine allowing one of Farley's officers to pick off the pests. "When they had a hog problem," she said, "they came in and did something about it."
Vultures have long had a presence in Woodland Estates, though the population seems to have grown in recent years, officials and residents say. In 1999, as many as 1,000 lived on state lands.
As the sun begins to rise, the vultures prepare for a day of scavenging.
"They soar all day and to do this they have to be very light," said Bill Kohlmoos, president of the Turkey Vulture Society in Reno, Nev.
"So in the morning they hold their wings out in the sun to warm up. The air in their wing bones expands and helps them become lighter," he said.
The problem is that while the vultures wait on the pitched top of Hasting's Florida room, they fiddle with the screen, slashing it with their feet and picking at the rubber molding.
Buzzards, as most residents can attest, also destroy rooftops and claw at boat seats and life jackets.
Vultures also leave behind a mess of feathers and feces. "They're just nasty," said Hastings, 38, an office manager of a limerock quarry.
"I just built my dream home," she said. "I don't mind living next to buzzards or the hogs or anything else. I just don't want them destroying my home."
Her cause is not fully backed by the neighborhood. Some residents worry that the fireworks used to scare the birds disrupt other wildlife.
"It's very ineffectual," neighbor Lynda Dansby said of the noisemaking tactics. The buzzards "just go from one place to another."
-- Alex Leary can be reached at 564-3623 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
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