Photo courtesy of Nathan Rupert, Flickr
Responding to legal pressure from a coalition of animal protection and conservation groups, Shasta County officials announced today that the county will suspend its contract with the notorious federal wildlife-killing program known as Wildlife Services. The county’s decision came after coalition members filed a notice of intent to sue Shasta County in June for violating the California Environmental Quality Act. Coalition members include the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Protection Information Center, the Mountain Lion Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Project Coyote, and WildEarth Guardians.
Shasta County’s previous contract authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program to kill hundreds of bears and coyotes, as well as thousands of birds and muskrats and other animals in the county every year, without assessing the ecological damage or considering alternatives. Peer-reviewed research shows that such indiscriminate killing of wild animals results in broad ecological destruction and loss of biodiversity.
Over the past two years, Wildlife Services has killed 72,385 animals in Shasta County using traps, snares and firearms. The agency’s methods also killed non-targeted species — including domestic dogs — and may have harmed threatened and endangered species, such as the tricolored blackbird.
“Wildlife Services is a rogue wildlife-killing agency and California residents deserve better than to have their tax dollars spent on the trapping, poisoning, and shooting of innocent animals,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “We hope Shasta County will now stick to nonlethal options to address wildlife conflicts.”
Shasta is the latest county in California to discontinue its contract with Wildlife Services amid pressure from animal advocates. In 2013, in response to a letter from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors opted not to renew that county’s contract with Wildlife Services. In 2015, following a lawsuit, Mendocino County agreed as part of the settlement to fully evaluate nonlethal predator control alternatives. Two years later, a California court ruled in favor of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and its coalition partners, finding that Monterey County had to conduct an environmental review process before renewing its contract with Wildlife Services.
“Shasta County is home to dozens of threatened and endangered species that are at risk of being maimed or killed by Wildlife Services’ use of archaic and indiscriminate methods. By discontinuing its contract, Shasta County is helping to ensure that these species, which are already struggling to survive, have a better chance at recovery,” said Johanna Hamburger, wildlife attorney for the Animal Welfare Institute.
“Many non-lethal alternatives exist that effectively reduce if not eliminate conflicts between livestock and predators,” said Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote. “Shasta County should follow the lead of counties like Marin that decided to adopt a non-lethal cost-share program in place of the USDA Wildlife Services lethal and indiscriminate program. Marin’s Livestock and Wildlife Protection Program is more cost effective, humane, and has proven that non-lethal methods -including livestock guard animals, Foxlights, and better fencing- are effective predator deterrents.”
“This decision is a major victory for Shasta County’s coyotes, bears and other wildlife,” said Collette Adkins, a biologist and attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “All the latest science shows predator control is expensive, ineffective and inhumane. We’re glad Shasta County recognizes there’s no basis for continuing to shoot, trap and strangle thousands of animals every year.”
“We are encouraged to see counties across California catch up to the best available science indicating the efficacy of nonlethal methods,” said Michelle Lute, PhD, wildlife coexistence campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “As more and more counties like Shasta cancel their contract killing of wildlife, they will see that lives can be saved and livelihoods can be sustained with ethical, effective coexistence.”