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    Albany builds burrows, hoping to attract owls

    Kathy Rushmore and Matt Russell stood outside of a newly-built fence at Albany Plateau, which prohibited them and their dog from entering an 8-acre land enclosed for burrowing owls. Photo by Linda (Linjun) Fan.

    The City of Albany has put up a half-mile-long fence at the Albany Plateau recently, hoping to create a habitat for burrowing owls.

    The project was planned after a burrowing owl habitat at Gillman Street, a few miles south of the Plateau, was replaced by ball fields.

    Five East Bay cities, including Albany and Berkeley, who jointly developed the $25 million ball fields project, are obligated to create a substitute habitat for the burrowing owl, a ground-dwelling raptor protected by the state of California as species of special concern.

    Although no owls have been spotted at the Plateau, a 20-acre grassland at Albany’s waterfront, it was chosen for the habitat because of its large open space.

    The Plateau once was a landfill. It is now maintained as a park by the East Bay Regional Park District. Due to lack of funds, the land doesn’t have paved roads or other park facilities. It is mostly covered by wild plants and visited by dog walkers.

    There is food source for the owls at the Plateau, such as squirrels and other rodents, and the owls have been seen at nearby Golden Gate Fields Racetrack and Cesar Chavez Park, according to a report on the project.

    The Albany City Council unanimously approved the budget of project last fall, which costs about $90,000 in total.

    Three artificial burrows, made of pipes covered by soil and salvaged rocks, will soon be constructed inside the fence. A four-feet-high stationary fence will also be built to prevent visitors from entering the area.

    The 8-acre enclosed area will be periodically mowed to accommodate the burrowing owl, which prefers low grass.

    The owl usually uses vacant burrows left behind by other animals. It has also paid visits to artificial burrows created by humans in other places in California. But it is not clear whether the owls will come to dwell in the burrows Albany is building.

    “There could be none. We just don’t know, ” said Anne Chaney, director of the Community Development Department of Albany.

    Alison Brede, who visits the Plateau with her three dogs every day, was angry at the project.

    “It’s foolish. I don’t think the owls will instinctively migrate into the burrows, ” she said. “It’s a waste of land. Let’s the dog and people have the place. “

    Alison Brede and her three Saint Bernards in front of the fence at the Albany Plateau.

    Someone torn down a sign posted at the temporary fence, painted it with graffiti, and threw it into a garbage can.

    Kathy Rushmore and Matt Russell, who are also frequent visitors of the Plateau, said that they welcomed the project, despite of their initial surprise at the fence.

    “It’s a good thing. We should share the land with wild life, ” Rushmore said.

    People and dogs can still use the other unfenced half of the Plateau, she said.

    The burrows and fence will stay at the Plateau for at least five years. They would be removed if no owls pay visit to the land by then.

    Click here to read an information sheet of the burrowing owl project.

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