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New police assignment: Get rid of pesky birds

From time to time, a city police officer is called to the nearby state preserve to take on one of Florida's most destructive animals. After trained dogs give chase, Craig Reese pounces on one of the sharp-tusked beasts and stabs it furiously with a long knife.

It's a brutal but proven way to trim the herd of wild hogs that has trampled sensitive plants and rendered some roads impassible.

Now Reese or one of his fellow officers may be called to control another pest.

The City Council on Monday directed the Police Department to shoot a handful of the vultures that have vandalized a neighborhood in Woodland Estates, the subdivision that abuts Crystal River State Buffer Preserve.

"When you just say shooting buzzards it sounds silly," said Mayor Ron Kitchen. "But these things have caused serious property damage. The folks have tried everything, from pyrotechnics to spikes on their roofs, to get rid of them."

The issue surfaced a few weeks ago when a resident, Mindy Hastings, complained that vultures were shredding the screen covering her Florida room and leaving behind a foul mess of feathers and feces.

Hastings obtained a federal permit to shoot 15 vultures, which are a protected species, and was prepared to do so. She planned to use some of the vultures as effigies to scare from her home the hundreds of others living among the preserve.

But it was not that simple. A local ordinance prohibits shooting a firearm within city limits. Police Chief Jim Farley, worried about a stray shot or a string of similar requests, urged the council to reject a temporary ordinance allowing the shooting.

A long debate ensued during Monday's meeting, with some officials calling for a continued effort to use fireworks and other noisemakers before resorting to shooting. Hastings, citing experience, contends that would be worthless exercise.

"I can shoot off a bottle rocket and they are going to go down in front of someone else's house," she said. "And they are going to shoot off the bottle rocket and they will come back over to mine. And we play volleyball."

City Council member Roger Proffer suggested using animal carcasses to lure the birds to another area. But others said there were far too many, and that would transfer the problem elsewhere.

One man urged the city to act quickly so to not attract attention of animal rights groups.

In the end, stressing it was a one-time deal, the council asked the Police Department to do the work. Hastings' permit expires Dec. 31.