UC Berkeley is home to a large population of friendly, chubby squirrels. The squirrels on campus are famous among students for their ability to charm you out of your lunch or just steal it right out of your hands.
Environmental Impact and Response
While the campus squirrels are largely known for their obesity and friendliness, Berkeley squirrels have been consistently caught in the crossfire between wildlife lovers and the the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control District, which ordered the city of Berkeley to reduce the squirrel population in 2009. The environmental impact of the abundant population of squirrels within the entire city led to the formation of a special squirrel subcommittee on the Berkeley City Council. The burrowing of squirrels and gophers is threatening the clay cap that encases harmful chemicals inside a former hazardous waste site in Cesar Chavez Park. There are concerns that the toxins could leak from the site and spill into the San Francisco Bay.
In July 2014, the squirrel subcommittee decided to outlaw feeding wildlife in Berkeley public parks. Those caught feeding squirrels or other wildlife in Berkeley public parks could face a $1000 fine, up to 6 months in jail, or both. This decision was reached as an alternative to the initially proposed pilot program commissioning a pest control company to exterminate squirrels in a section of Cesar Chavez Park. The initial proposal to exterminate the squirrels prompted an outcry from the Berkeley community in which over 81,000 emails were sent to city staff in protest. In the summer of 2014, the city spent $8000 to put signs and brochures in Cesar Chavez Park informing the public that feeding squirrels and other wildlife is a crime.
The push to reduce the squirrel population in targeted areas of the city has not seemed to have a measurable effect on the thriving squirrel population on the UC Berkeley campus. The popularity of the squirrels among students is reflected in Berkeley’s social media, including the the Facebook page entitled “Berkeley Squirrels” and the recurring character of “Gossip Squirrel” on the the social media app called Yik Yak.