Federal agents armed with baskets of poisoned bread cubes finally went ahead Saturday with their controversial plan to poison thousands of gulls on Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, despite a covert operation by protesters who stole ashore under cover of night.
As scores of curious gray and harbor seals looked on from the water a few yards off South Monomoy Island, about a dozen federal workers fanned out across the hillside about 8 a.m., dropping the bread cubes into gull nests.
The poison, which causes kidney failure, is to be used against 6,000 black-backed and herring gulls.
A group of activists opposing the plan said that they had taken out a catamaran at about 3 a.m. Saturday and landed on the island, ducking federal patrols in the restricted area.
Before leaving, they dropped about 400 sandwiches filled with blackened Cape Cod tuna and activated charcoal pills, they said.
The activists, who said they would not provide their names because their acts were illegal, hoped that the sandwiches would ruin the gulls’ appetites for the bread cubes. The charcoal absorbs poison and might help mitigate the effects of the toxic bread, they said.
Because of their limited resources, however, the protesters said they expected the sandwiches to reach fewer than 2 percent of the island’s gull population.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it could not verify reports of the secret landing Saturday.
The government is carrying out what will be a three-year operation, despite intense opposition in this Cape Cod community, in hopes of creating a 350-acre nesting area free of harassment for two endangered species of shorebirds - piping plovers and roseate terns.
A federal appeals court in Boston rejected an emergency plea from environmental groups to halt the killing Friday, one day after a federal judge said the operation could go forward.
Opponents of the plan, who argue that it is inhumane and unnecessary, had hoped that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy would intervene on behalf of the birds, but his office said that the activists had “exhausted all possible alternatives” in the courts.