The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors agreed today to immediately terminate its contract with a notorious wildlife killing agency unless and until the county complies with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The agreement settles a lawsuit that a coalition of environmental and animal protection groups filed against the county.
The settlement concerns the county's contract with Wildlife Services, which operates under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and kills hundreds of coyotes, bears, bobcats, and other wildlife in Mendocino County every year. Under the terms of the settlement, Mendocino County must evaluate the merits of a non-lethal predator control program and prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) under CEQA if it decides to enter into a contract with Wildlife Services in the future. The county will also pay the coalition the sum of $25,000 in attorneys' fees.
This action was brought by a coalition consisting of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity, Mountain Lion Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Project Coyote and a Mendocino Country resident.
In 2014, the coalition sued, and subsequently settled with, Mendocino County for failing to comply with CEQA before hiring Wildlife Services. However, the county breached the settlement agreement when it reinstated the contract with Wildlife Services before completing a required EIR - claiming that lethal predator control would have no impact on Mendocino's ecosystem and was exempt from CEQA. In July 2015, the coalition sued the county a second time for breaching the agreement and once again violating CEQA.
"Killing thousands of native animals clearly would have an impact on the environment," says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. "Research shows that non-lethal programs exist that will result in a better outcome based on Mendocino County's primary goal-protecting livestock."
In 2014, Wildlife Services killed approximately 47,000 animals in California (out of nearly three million killed nationwide), while displacing an additional 1.6 million animals across the state.
Mendocino County's contract with Wildlife Services authorized the program - at a cost of $144,000 to taxpayers - to kill animals in without assessing the ecological impacts or considering alternatives.
"It is time for each and every county across the country to consider and account for the tremendous environmental and ecological consequences of using indiscriminate, lethal and inhumane wildlife control methods," says Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney with the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI). "We are hopeful that this step is the beginning of officials considering more effective approaches that don't involve routine slaughter of vast numbers of wildlife."
Peer-reviewed research shows that the reckless slaughter of native predators causes broad ecological destruction. Indiscriminate methods used by Wildlife Services have also killed more than 50,000 non-target animals since 2000, including family pets, endangered condors, bald eagles, and millions of other birds. Studies show such mass killing, in addition to being cruel and inhumane, negatively impacts the biodiversity of ecosystems.
These lawsuits mark the advocacy groups' first attempts to require a local government to comply with state law when entering into contracts with the federal agency.