County Settles Second Lawsuit with Animal Protection Coalition over Controversial Wildlife Services Program
Ukiah, CA—In a major victory for opponents of animal cruelty, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors has agreed to perform a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and immediately suspend its contract with a controversial wildlife killing agency. The agreement settles a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental and animal protection groups against Mendocino County.
The settlement concerns Mendocino County’s contract with Wildlife Services, which operates under the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and kills hundreds of coyotes, mountain lions, bears, bobcats, and other wildlife in Mendocino County every year. Under the terms of the settlement, Mendocino County must evaluate the merits of a nonlethal predator control program and prepare an EIR under CEQA if it decides to enter into a contract with Wildlife Services in the future.
Mendocino County’s agreement to study the wildlife control program operated by Wildlife Services signals a critical change in policy. In 2014, the coalition sued Mendocino County for failing to comply with CEQA before hiring Wildlife Services. The lawsuit settled in April 2015, with the county agreeing to comply with CEQA prior to renewing its annual contract with Wildlife Services. However, in June 2015 the county reinstated its contract with Wildlife Services before completing an EIR, as required by CEQA. Instead, the county claimed that lethal predator control would have no impact on Mendocino County’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.
“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,” said Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney with the Animal Welfare Institute. “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.”
In 2014, Wildlife Services killed approximately 47,000 animals in California (out of nearly 3 million killed nationwide), using traps, snares, poison, and other devices.
Mendocino County’s contract with Wildlife Services authorized the program—at a cost of $144,000 to taxpayers—to kill animals without assessing the ecological impacts or considering alternatives.
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 nontarget 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.
Represented by the law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, the coalition consists of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Mountain Lion Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Project Coyote and a Mendocino County resident.
Amey Owen, Animal Welfare Institute, firstname.lastname@example.org, (202) 446-2128
About the Animal Legal Defense Fund
The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, ALDF files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit aldf.org.
About the Animal Welfare Institute
The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. For more information, visit awionline.org.
About the Center for Biological Diversity
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 950,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places through science, policy, education, and environmental law. For more information, visit biologicaldiversity.org
About Mountain Lion Foundation
The Mountain Lion Foundation is a national non-profit organization founded in 1986. For 30 years, the Foundation has worked with member volunteers, activists and partner organizations to create and further wildlife policies that seek to protect mountain lions, people and domestic animals without resorting to lethal measures. For more information, visit mountainlion.org.
About the Natural Resources Defense Council
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.
About Project Coyote
Project Coyote is a national non-profit organization and a North American coalition of wildlife educators, scientists, ranchers, and community leaders promoting coexistence between people and wildlife, and compassionate conservation through education, science, and advocacy. Visit: ProjectCoyote.org