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Vulture cure: Will it be worse than the disease?

Vultures are a common sight in Citrus County, riding the thermals high above the treetops or tearing into some unfortunate roadkill on any of the county's increasingly busy thoroughfares.

Yet, nowhere are they found in such numbers as in Crystal River, especially in the Woodland Estates neighborhood abutting the Crystal River State Buffer Preserve. Their overwhelming presence is causing headaches for homeowners who have hundreds of the huge birds roosting on their rooftops and tearing apart their swimming pool enclosures.

Since the buzzards lack the social graces necessary to use restroom facilities properly, they are making their marks on these homes in the worst way possible. The birds are more than just a nuisance, they are a health hazard.

The question facing residents and city officials is, what to do about the birds?

Several exasperated homeowners told the City Council this week that they have tried a number of tactics to scare away the varmints, from banging pots and pans and setting off fireworks to metal spikes and laser lights. Nothing seems to work.

Faced with growing complaints from the residents, the City Council on Monday directed the Police Department to bring out the artillery. Very soon, police officers will begin blasting at the birds.

The decision raises the question, however, of whether this cure will be worse than the disease.

While it is certainly better to have trained professionals firing weapons within the city limits instead of angry residents, some problems remain. Police Chief Jim Farley, who is not keen on the idea of his officers going buzzard hunting, rightly wonders about such things as stray shots, for example.

The vultures are big, but not every shot will find its mark. The flying lead will come down eventually, and quite a distance from where it was fired. Stories abound from places like the Middle East where people fire their AK-47s in the air in jubilation and end up killing innocent people a few miles away when the slugs fall to earth.

The weapons the police will use won't pack the same firepower as automatic rifles, but they still will have the potential for unintended damage. Imagine being a boater slowly cruising along the Crystal River when lead pellets suddenly start falling from the sky all around you.

Far-fetched? Perhaps. Impossible? Let's hope so.

Another question is: Will someone be responsible for retrieving the carcasses of the blasted buzzards? If not, then expect even more vultures to arrive, drawn by the fresh kill.

Finally, there is the big question of why are the vultures flocking to Crystal River? There are forests and rivers and lakes all over Citrus County. What is so special about this one place that it is attracting hundreds of vultures?

Could it be that the birds know this is where city managers' careers come to die? Do they somehow sense that this is the spot where cooperative government and consensus building have breathed their last?

Are they there to pick on the bones of failed dreams, from the Sun Cruz gambling ship to the Bonner Lee warship museum to the five-star hotel that was going to rise along Kings Bay?

To the residents who are seeing their homes damaged, of course, this is no laughing matter. The city has a responsibility to do whatever it can to help the tormented taxpayers. Having the police wield weapons against the birds is a drastic step, but even the advocates for the protected species can offer no better options.

The city should exercise all due caution when it begins its buzzard eradication program, notifying residents when the shooting will begin, taking care to shoot away from populated areas and cleaning up afterward.

As for those who may be angered by this action and who would insist that there is a better way to chase buzzards away from their own habitat (after all, they were there long before Woodland Estates existed), please send your suggestions to the City Council. They will be all ears.

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