Mendocino County ponders new way of dealing with predators

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Mendocino County ponders new way of dealing with predators

Above Photo: Guardian Dog Looks After Sheep © Keli Hendricks

By Chris McManus

Camilla Fox and Keli Hendricks of Project Coyote asked the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors Tuesday to consider alternative approaches to dealing with predators in agricultural lands. The presentation was part of a settlement in a lawsuit filed last year by a number of animal advocacy groups against the county for its Wildlife Damage Management program, operated by the USDA Wildlife Services agency under a contract with the County.

Under the settlement, the County agreed to the informational presentation about alternatives to the current program.

The current county contract “authorizes Wildlife Services, a highly-controversial federal program, to kill hundreds of animals in the county every year, including coyotes, bears, and foxes, without assessing the ecological impact or considering alternatives,” said Megan Backus of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, another of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Last July the coalition, which also includes Animal Welfare Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity, urged the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors to terminate the contract with Wildlife Services and conduct the an environmental review. The county’s lack of response prompted the lawsuit.

Much of Fox’s presentation was on the Marin County Livestock and Wildlife Protection Program, a non-lethal, community-based program which that county adopted in 2003 at the urging of Project Coyote and others.

“The process of how we got there is really important,” Fox said. It started as a “rancorous debate,” that ultimately turned into a series of meetings between agriculture and wildlife to design and implement a program, she said.

The formal presentation was followed by about 90 minutes of public testimony, in which agricultural interests favoring lethal methods of eliminating predators greatly outnumbered those favoring non-lethal interventions. Many claimed that Mendocino County is different than Marin, wilder with different predators. Others disputed some of Fox’s contentions about the success of the Marin County program.

“People look at this from such different perspectives,” said Supervisor Dan Hamburg. “It got pretty hot.” “I have to do more research,” he added. “I’m glad we didn’t have to make a decision yesterday [Tuesday].”

Supervisors will have to make a decision before the County’s current contract with Wildlife Services runs out June 30. The County could decide to take the Marin County approach of crafting a different, non-lethal approach to eliminating animal conflicts. If, however, the County decides to renew its contract with Wildlife Services, even a modified contract, it will have to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, including a public comment period.

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May 8, 2015