Legal Settlement Halts Local Extermination Program— Wildlife Advocates Call on Plumas and Sierra Supervisors to Kill the USDA “Wildlife Services” Contract for Good
By Josh Hart, Spokesperson, FeatherRiverAction.org
When many residents of Plumas and Sierra Counties learned last year that our local tax dollars were paying for a wildlife killing program in our communities operated by the federal government, we were livid. The records we requested painted a grim picture; over the past ten years alone the USDA Wildlife Services program in Plumas and Sierra Counties exterminated over 4000 wild animals at a cost to taxpayers of roughly $750,000. In just one decade this agency killed 68 bears, 1 badger, 2 bobcats, 7 squirrels, 247 beaver, 13 mountain lions, 12 foxes, 180 raccoons, 1921 coyotes, 513 skunks, and 1296 muskrats— all using local property taxes. This slaughter has significantly harmed the ecology of the Northern Sierra region. These killings in local communities have been carried out illegally for decades, without any kind of environmental study or review, as required by state law.
Many people are not aware that killing one animal can destabilize entire ecosystems, causing what is known as a “trophic cascade” that harms animal and plant species throughout a bioregion. For example, muskrat dens provide habitat for birds and amphibians in places like Sierra Valley. Therefore, the killing of muskrats has a negative impact on the wider biodiversity of our region. Such adverse environmental consequences of the program were never even considered during the decades of the program, before authorizing millions in local funds.
Because Plumas and Sierra County Boards of Supervisors continued the program after being repeatedly informed they were operating without legal authorization, local organization Feather River Action! and national predator-defense group Project Coyote filed a lawsuit in Plumas County Superior Court on March 1st alleging that the wildlife killing contract was illegal under state law—specifically the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The two counties, understanding the program was illegal without a CEQA review, and that they would very likely lose if the case went to court, settled the lawsuit by agreeing to suspend the program, conduct a CEQA review, and cover the plaintiffs’ legal costs. This settlement was approved on August 16th of this year by the Plumas County Board of Supervisors.
We are satisfied with this agreement, and see it as an opportunity to shift to a wildlife coexistence model, while also protecting agricultural communities through expanded use of modern, non-lethal deterrence methods such as guard dogs, mounted range patrols, fencing, flagging, etc.—options that should be prioritized and funded through the county ag department. These are the first (often neglected) steps to protect animals from predation. The bottom line is that in 2022, local taxpayers should not be funding animal killing squads for private interests—period.
In other California counties where non-lethal, defensive measures have widely replaced outdated lethal ones, predation of farm animals has fallen sharply. It has also been shown that wildlife killing programs have not reduced predator populations or predation, but have increased both conflicts with wildlife and predator reproduction rates (in Coyote packs, for example).
Even though the Wildlife Services program is on hold and under review as a result of our lawsuit, the Counties may choose to continue the program once the environmental review is completed, unless they hear clearly from the public that a non-lethal program should be put in place, as other California counties have successfully done. Click these links to send Plumas and Sierra County Boards a quick note & tell them to drop the Wildlife Services contract and replace it with a local non-lethal program.
We look forward to working with Plumas and Sierra County agencies, residents and businesses to support efforts and projects that help people coexist with the diversity of wildlife in the Feather River watershed area, and reduce or eliminate conflicts that exist. Area residents are welcome to contact us for assistance, ideas, and questions about non-lethal predator management, and about local environmental issues generally. The first 20 people who join our e-mail discussion list this Autumn will receive a free copy of biologist Chad Hanson’s book, Smokescreen: Debunking Wildfire Myths to Save Our Forests and Our Climate, a fresh approach to the issue of forest health, human communities and fire. Join us! E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or send a note to FRA! POB 682 Portola 96122 for information.
Human visitors to this area are drawn to the abundance of wildlife and the remaining bio-diversity of the Feather River watershed. Local agriculture, tourism, residential communities and thriving wildlife communities can (and do) all co-exist happily when given the chance.
For their work and support in reaching this agreement, Feather River Action! thanks advising attorney Don Lipmanson, Jessica Blome of GreenFire Law, Michelle Lute of Project Coyote, local organizations, and the many residents in Plumas and Sierra County who had no idea their property taxes were paying for the killing of thousands of wild animals, and who are outraged at this cruel and illegal program being carried out in our names (and with our money) over decades. We appreciate everyone who spoke out and supported ending the contract, and hope this can kickstart a broader conversation about human relationships with other species who inhabit our area.