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Counties suspend wildlife contracts following lawsuit

By Debra Moore

[email protected]

Portola resident Josh Hart repeatedly asked the Plumas County Board of Supervisors to suspend its approach to dealing with wildlife, and when those requests went unheeded, he took it to court.

His organization, Feather River Action!, and Project Coyote jointly filed a lawsuit against Plumas and Sierra counties for violating the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to stop the “illegal killing of wildlife without the legally required environmental review.”

The lawsuit challenges the county’s failure to conduct the CEQA review of its $76,623 contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services program. This contract authorizes Wildlife Services to kill animals without alternative non-lethal management strategies, according to Hart.

The counties voted to sign a settlement agreement with the two agencies. The counties will refrain from continued participation in the program until it goes through the CEQA process and the counties must pay the legal fees incurred by the plaintiffs — $45,000.

“They would have saved a lot of money if they had listened to us and it had been going on for decades,” Hart said during an interview following the settlement.

“We presented the county with many more nonlethal alternatives. It took a lawsuit to get this result,” Hart added. He wants the money that was used for the wildlife contract to be given to ranchers to provide money for guard dogs, guard llamas, humans patrolling, fencing and other nonlethal alternatives to protect their livestock from wildlife.

“There are better alternatives to allow us to coexist,” he said. “I hope the county and ranching community will take a year or two and take this funding to use nonlethal methods, and take some advice from Project Coyote. Hopefully they will find this makes much more sense.”

A little history

In 2016, wildlife advocates, including Project Coyote, successfully sued Mendocino County, requiring the county to perform a full Environmental Impact Report of their contract with Wildlife Services pursuant to CEQA. Last year, Mendocino County ultimately chose to end its contract with Wildlife Services and instead pursue non-lethal strategies for wildlife management.

Marin County ended its contract with Wildlife Services in 2000 and adopted a non-lethal cost-share program to assist ranchers with implementation of non-lethal methods, such as fencing and guardian animals, to reduce conflicts between wildlife and livestock. Non-lethal methods precipitated a 62 percent decline in coyote predation on sheep in Marin from 2002 to 2011, according to the Marin County Department of Agriculture.

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