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Navy handed out mouse traps to sailors on San Clemente Island like ‘in-room amenity,’ emails say

A CH-46 Sea Knight flies over San Clemente Island, Feb. 12, during phase three of Exercise Iron Fist 2012, a bilateral training event between members of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force. (Lance Cpl. Timothy Childers/U.S. Marine Corps)

A rodent infestation at naval facilities on San Clemente Island was more widespread than previously reported and, at its peak, an official on the island threatened to close a key housing facility if something wasn’t done to fix the problem, emails show.

The emails, obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, offer a behind-the-scenes look at how Navy leaders dealt with a booming population of mice on the island, which the Union-Tribune first reported Oct. 30.

San Clemente Island is the southernmost island in the Channel Islands archipelago that runs from Santa Barbara to the coast off San Diego.

It’s home to the Navy’s only ship-to-shore live firing range, an airfield, a Navy SEAL training facility, and it has about 150 to 300 Navy personnel on it at any given time. That population can spike to 2,000 depending on operations.

The island, 70 miles west of La Jolla, is managed by the Navy and is home to several species of unique plants and animals. The Navy is tasked to protect the island’s ecosystem, which, officials said, limited the tools they could deploy to combat a booming rodent population brought on by a wetter than usual winter.

As early as July 27, Capt. Timothy Slentz, the commanding officer of Naval Base Coronado, ordered expanded pest control visits to the island, emails show.

However, those initial measures were limited to glue and snap traps and, according to complaints from the island, were not getting the job done.

Navy Gateway Inns & Suites provides temporary lodging at Navy bases nationwide and operates like a hotel. In an Aug. 15 email, an official from the Navy Gateway Inns & Suites complained to a Navy official in the Naval Facilities Engineering Command that a group in the hotel that week had to move rooms due to the mice problem.

“Catching mice all day in the guest rooms is unacceptable and I do not think anyone wants a mouse in their room,” the official, whose name was redacted from the emails, wrote. “Mice are coming under the doorways — if I have to shut the rooms down, I will.”

The official offered to “turn in whatever paperwork” was needed to address the problem and threatened to kick “everyone” out of the hotel.

After not receiving a response, the official sent another email Aug. 22. This time the official added pictures of mice in traps, sinks and light fixtures.

“Apparently, the (facilities) staff have given glue traps to the front desk and expect the staff to hand out these to guests like it’s some sort of in-room amenity you get at the Four Seasons,” the official wrote. “This needs to be addressed as no sailor should have to expect this in their guest room or living quarters.”

A Navy facilities official responded that same day that pest control had been out to the island the prior four weekends but that all that could legally be done was being done.

As Helen Haase, a Navy spokeswoman, previously told the Union-Tribune, the service has limited options in combating the rodents because they’re an important part of the island’s ecosystem, which includes the unique San Clemente Island fox. Mice are an important food source for the fox, so the Navy does not use poison to control them.

Four days later, on Aug. 26, the Navy Gateway Inns & Suites official asked the facilities official to provide door sweeps to prevent rodents from accessing rooms from under doors.

“Your assistance in getting door sweeps replaced would be the first concern I have in minimizing the rodent problem in NGIS rooms,” the official wrote. “There are 40 guest rooms on the first floor … which need immediate attention to avoid the mice from coming under the door.”

Again, the facilities official did not respond.

The Navy Gateway Inns & Suites official again followed up with the facilities official, this time threatening to close the hotel until the mice problem was solved. Again, the official included photos of mice caught in rooms.

“Two (lieutenants) sharing a two-room unit … reported a combined kill total of 33 mice during their two week stay,” the official said in a Sept. 4 email. “I do not find this acceptable and I do not think anyone else would. If the problem continues to escalate, I will have to recommend to N9 and Region to consider closing the NGIS facilities on (San Clemente Island) until a solution is reached to avoid any health and safety concerns brought in by the rodents.”

That email made its way to Slentz who, as commander of Naval Base Coronado, is also in charge of San Clemente. Slentz told subordinates in an email that the base and region needed to come up with a plan to deal with the rodents.

Then, on Sept. 5, a facilities official finally responded.

“Navy pest control has been out on island for the past five weeks in a row combating, rebaiting existing stations and installing new bait stations on (San Clemente Island),” the official said in an email to several local naval officials. “Today I have received confirmation of availability of door sweeps for every (combined bachelor housing and Navy Gateway Inns & Suites) door and more on (the island).”

The official also said 28 new dumpsters would be installed around housing quarters.

“To date, (facilities maintenance department) has expended more work orders and money toward this effort than any previous year,” the official wrote.

Naval officials working on the island last sent emails complaining of mice on Oct. 11, according to the records.

A number of mice had been captured in spaces associated with the Southern California Offshore Range section of the island. Photos, which were not provided with the emails, showed a number of mice caught within just 30 minutes of the traps being laid.

Slentz responded, writing “We’ve spent more money on mice this year than ever.”

At the end October, frustrated naval personnel on the island began sending photos of the mice to the Union-Tribune.

Kevin Dixon, a Naval Base Coronado spokesman, said in an email Friday that door sweeps had been installed and the number of mice was down.

“Door sweeps have been installed at NGIS and other buildings on San Clemente Island,” Dixon wrote. “This, combined with our continued education outreach and other mitigation, appears to be working, as there has been a drop in rodents inside the affected buildings. We will continue to monitor the situation and adjust our mitigation efforts as needed.”


© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune