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Ukiah Daily Journal, July 28, 2015

Animal rights groups targeting Mendocino County, again
By Adam Randall

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, along with at least six other parties, have brought forth another lawsuit against Mendocino County, alleging it previously breached a settlement agreement from a prior suit pertaining to a predator management program with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services.

In its most recent complaint filed with the Mendocino County Superior Court Monday, the ALDF, including the Animal Welfare Institute, Mountain Lion Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council Inc., Project Coyote/Earth Island Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and county resident Carol Becker allege Mendocino County officials disregarded the previous settlement agreement with conservationists by sidestepping an environmental study it agreed to do under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The court complaint also alleges Mendocino County 5th District Supervisor Dan Hamburg was informed by Interim County Counsel Doug Losak via speakerphone that Mendocino County had “no intention of performing an environmental study,” while meeting with two local residents concerned about the issue prior to the board’s decision in June. The residents allegedly overheard the statement.

Additionally, the advocacy groups claim the supervisors encouraged proponents of the program to speak at the June meeting in favor of reimplementing the contract.

Hamburg said Tuesday he thought the June meeting in no way encouraged one side or the other, but didn’t dispute the statement made by Losak.

“I think the hearing was very inclusive for both sides,” Hamburg said.

Losak was out of the office Tuesday and couldn’t be reached for comment.

The USDA is contracted by the county to provide a service to residents and businesses who may be experiencing problems from “nuisance animals” in the area, county officials previously said. Contracted employees then come to the scene and use either lethal or non-lethal means of removing the animal.

The supervisors agreed to the renewal of the Wildlife Services contract in June, worth $144,000 for the 2015-16 fiscal year, after discussing the matter at a public meeting about whether to reapprove the contract or consider other predator management options, which was also part of the earlier settlement agreement.

“In the event the county elects to renew or modify the Integrated Wildlife Damage Management program, the county agrees it shall comply with CEQA prior to taking any such action,” the settlement stated.

Todd Smith, a lawyer brought in by the county from Sacramento-based Thomas Law Group, said at the June meeting the county was exempt from complying with CEQA because the program has existed in its current form since 1989, with similar agreements dating back to the mid-1900s, without any such action taking place, or being required to take place.

Smith also said at that time the Wildlife Services program qualified for a “common sense” exemption because there was no clear evidence the county or the program is causing damage to the environment.

The animal rights groups stated the killing of hundreds of animals under the program can adversely affect the local ecosystem, including the disruption of the animal food chain.

The supervisors disagreed in June, saying there was no evidence that the program negatively affected the species or the ecosystem.

The groups are asking the court at the very least to vacate and set aside approval of the Cooperative Services Agreement with Wildlife Services, the 2015-2016 Work and Financial Plan, and IWDM program; to prepare and certify a legally adequate EIR for the agreement, five-year Cooperative Services Agreement, and IWDM program; and to suspend any and all activity pursuant to Mendocino County’s approval of the agreement, five-year cooperative services agreement, and IWDM program, until the county has complied with CEQA.

“We at least thought the Board of Supervisors would complete an initial study,” said Jessica Blome, staff attorney with the ALDF. “Instead, they just threw up their hands and claimed they were exempt.”

According to data obtained from the USDA, trappers apprehended a total of 346 animals in Mendocino County during 2014, including coyotes, bobcats, swine, bears and deer, mainly using firearms, traps or snares. Of the 346, a total of 333 were killed, with the surviving animals either being freed or transferred, according to the USDA.

Proponents at past supervisor meetings, many who owned agricultural property within Mendocino County, were in favor of the program as a way to protect crops and livestock from “nuisance” animals. Local opponents have argued it is an unnecessary program.


Copyright © 2015, Ukiah Daily Journal.

This article originally appeared here.

Jeffrey pine photo by John Villinski.