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Great Pyrenees dogs are historically known to be great guardians of livestock and are being put to work in other parts of the country as ranchers and farmers look to reduce predation in a non-lethal manner.

Feather River Action! calls for Non-Lethal Predator Defense Program to replace USDA Wildlife Services presence as contract comes up for renewal

By Lauren Westmoreland

[email protected]

“Do you appreciate our region’s rich wildlife? Did you know your county taxes pay for the unnecessary slaughter of wildlife including bears, beaver, and badgers?” asked Josh Hart recently as spokesperson for Feather River Action! (FRA!), so named for the scenic and rich ecological environment they aim to protect.

Hart and others in Eastern Plumas have come together to raise awareness about Plumas and Sierra county’s contract with USDA Wildlife Services, which is up for renewal soon. “We are urging the replacement of this contract with a new, non-lethal county-based program to assist ranchers and farmers with defensive predator control,” Hart explained.

Their proposal is simple. “This would not prevent ranchers themselves killing predators consistent with state and federal law,” Hart stated. “However, it would discontinue the practice of using public county funds to kill wildlife on behalf of ranchers and others.”

Feather River Action! underscored their support of local ranchers, farmers, and their families, but noted that they just don’t want to see wildlife harmed as a result of these operations. “We would love to open a dialogue with both the ranchers and the county on how we could move forward in a mutually beneficial way,” Hart said.

The point is argued that many visitors to our area come to see the abundant wildlife, and this in turn boosts local economies. “Continuing the unnecessary slaughter of wildlife at taxpayer expense is not consistent with the values of most people living in this area, who appreciate and want to co-exist with wildlife,” Hart stated.

Hart went on to express that taxpayers in the region spend approximately $75,000 per year on this program. “Many of us want to see these funds re-directed to twenty first century non-lethal predator defensive measures such as improved fencing, guard dogs, and other deterrents that are proven effective without the killing,” he said. “Ensuring that proper fencing is in place and that livestock are properly guarded is like insulating your home rather than paying to heat a drafty house. It just makes sense.”

Hart and FRA! members state that wildlife is not an annoyance—rather, that “they are part of our community and were here first.”

From the perspective of this group, supporting ecological diversity supports the health of the forest and the larger ecosystem, critical for human health and well-being.

Hart went on to state that FRA! feels that Wildlife Services doesn’t serve wildlife. “It actually causes a huge amount of harm to both wildlife and our local ecology,” Hart said. “According to our Freedom of Information Act request, between 2011 and 2020, under an annual contract with Plumas and Sierra counties, Wildlife Services killed 4250 wild animals including bears, beaver, foxes, mountain lions, coyotes and badgers.”

Hart and the members of Feather River Action! feel that these deaths are unnecessary. “Improved, science-based non-lethal predator defense techniques to prevent livestock predation are more humane, effective— and cost-effective in the long run,” Hart stressed.

Some alternative measures that have been taken up by other ranchers and farmers across the state thus far include a non-lethal program launched in Marin County in 2001 that utilized guard dogs, fencing, and even guard llamas. This program achieved a 62 percent reduction in predation, according to Project Coyote, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and encouraging coexistence with carnivores.

Michelle Lute, National Carnivore Conservation Manager for Project Coyote has been providing support and information to the group and local governments. In her letter to Plumas County, Lute stated, “There is no credible evidence that indiscriminate killing of wildlife effectively serves any beneficial wildlife management purpose.”

Hart also cited instances where there have been inadvertent casualties due to the Wildlife Services program, such as a protected wolf which was killed in Oregon by a cyanide bomb, or M-44, in 2017.

Feather River Action’s attorney Jessica Blome of Greenfire Law recently wrote a letter to the Plumas and Sierra County Supervisors, which reads in part, “Significantly, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife discovered the Beckwourth wolf pack in Plumas County in May 2021. This discovery raises a host of scientific, ethical, and conservation issues that must be evaluated under CEQA.”

Hart and Feather River Action! invite dialogue and feedback from the community as they continue to point attention to the matter, with a presentation currently scheduled for the upcoming Plumas County Board of Supervisors meeting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, August 10.

“We would be happy to meet or speak with anyone who has any thoughts about this proposal that would protect both wildlife and agriculture,” Hart concluded. “We urge people in Plumas and Sierra counties to contact the two boards of supervisors and let them know it is time to stop the killing at taxpayer’s expense.”

Animals killed by USDA Wildlife Services in both Plumas and Sierra counties between 2011 and 2020. Photo and graph courtesy of ProjectCoyote.org

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