Lawsuit Filed Against Mendocino County Over Contract with Rogue Federal Predator Control Program

Wildlife Services Linked with Environmental Destruction, Indiscriminate Killing of Animals

Mendocino, CA—A coalition of animal protection and conservation groups and a local Mendocino resident filed a lawsuit against Mendocino County today in the Superior Court of California, County of Mendocino, for violating the California Environmental Quality Act. The lawsuit challenges the county’s failure to conduct the legally-required environmental review of its $142,356 taxpayer-funded contract with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Wildlife Services. The contract authorizes Wildlife Services, a highly-controversial federal program, to kill hundreds of animals in the county every year, including coyotes, bears, and foxes, without assessing the ecological impact or considering alternatives.

In July 2014, the coalition—including the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Biological Diversity, Project Coyote, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Animal Welfare Institute—urged the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors to terminate its contract with Wildlife Services and conduct the appropriate environmental review. Last year, in response to a letter from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors opted not to renew its contract with Wildlife Services. Nearly 15 years ago, Marin County replaced its Wildlife Services contract with a nonlethal predator control program that brought a 62 percent decrease in predation at one-third of the cost.

Each year, Wildlife Services indiscriminately traps and kills millions of animals—approximately 80,000 in California—on behalf of commercial agriculture. In 2013 alone, Wildlife Services killed 4 million wild animals. Since 2000, Wildlife Services has spent approximately 1 billion taxpayer dollars to kill 1 million coyotes and other predators nationwide—despite peer-reviewed research that shows that 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, including family pets, endangered condors, bald eagles, and millions of other birds. Studies show such mass killing negatively impacts the biodiversity of ecosystems. Though these numbers are staggering, former employees allege that Wildlife Services routinely underreports the number of animals killed and does not include indirect deaths, such as poisoning from the carcasses of animals that die from lethal sodium cyanide.

Wildlife Services has been the subject of increasing controversy in recent years. Russell Files, formerly of Arizona Wildlife Services, was charged with animal cruelty for intentionally maiming his neighbor’s dog with multiple steel-jaw leghold traps, and Jamie P. Olson, formerly of Wyoming Wildlife Services, posted pictures on social media of his hunting dogs mauling coyotes caught in steel-jaw leghold traps. More than 100,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Olson’s termination and an investigation into reports of animal cruelty by Wildlife Services employees. The program’s predator control activities are currently under investigation by the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General.