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This spring was poignant for Stewart, who began working with peregrines in the 1970s, at a time most thought they would go extinct. For what may well be his last time, in April he plucked four soccer ball-sized chicks from a nest below the Richardson Bay Bridge that spans an inlet in the north end of the San Francisco Bay.
"They look soft and fuzzy, but they have a very dense coat of down, their feet are heavy and they bite," he said.
The chicks were taken to the University of California, Davis, veterinary school where they were cared for before being moved to a building top where they were released. Costs are covered by the research groups.
Bill Heinrich who directs Interpretive Center at the Boise, Idaho-based Peregrine Fund said after so much effort, it makes no sense to halt rescues, especially since taxpayers no longer cover any of the costs. He hadn't heard of similar decisions anywhere else, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued no national directives.
"These are the most beautiful birds of prey in the world and also the fastest," he said. "We spent millions of dollars and decades bringing them back from the brink of extinction. I can understand why they don't want to pay for their rescues, but it makes no sense not to allow it."
But in recent years, Fish and Wildlife official Strassburger said, biologists have had to move peregrines from several Southern California breeding areas for endangered gulls called California least terns and threatened Western snowy plovers, sensitive little shorebirds that nest on beaches.
"It's difficult to think that sometimes we end up in that place, where you recover an endangered predator to the point they become a threat," said National Wildlife Federation senior scientist Douglas Inkley in Reston, Virginia. "Predators must be part of the picture. The long term answer is that we need to recover those prey species so neither population is at risk."
Biologist Stewart understands the long-term goals, but says the decision to ban him from saving a handful of chicks from Bay Area bridges next year is "dumbfounding."