MENDOCINO Co, CA, 1/31/23 — Mendocino County is collecting data on local wildlife issues and needs — from small garden pests to large predators — to help shape a new exclusion program based around non-lethal measures and a “no-wrong-door” policy.
Said acting Agricultural Commissioner Andrew Smith in a presentation to the Board of Supervisors lsat week, “This offers us an opportunity to get that message out to the public that they can lean on us, and that there’s no wrong door for receiving support from your local county government in handling wildlife issues in a non-lethal manner.”
Currently, county staff are working to let the public know that they can reach out to any one of numerous entities and be directed to someone who can assist them with their wildlife needs. Smith’s department, the Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures (AWM), is responsible for assisting with small wildlife nuisance problems; California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) handles large wildlife, from animal exclusion measures to ongoing issues; the Department of Animal Care Services handles domestic animals, but is available to direct residents to either AWM or CDFW; and the UC Cooperative Extension aids with education and research-based information on wildlife management.
“I think the attitude of this board is to try to live with nature rather than dominate it,” Chair Glenn McGourty said. “I think that this is an important program.”
Supervisor John Haschak has worked with staff to lay the groundwork for a new wildlife exclusion program for the past year, following uproar in 2014 over Mendocino County’s wildlife management through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS), which often relied on lethal methods. Mendocino County suspended its contract with FWS, but then renewed it in 2020 with the option for annual review. In 2021, the supervisors ended the contract in a three to two vote.
“Clearly, the right thing to do is for the County to move away from this barbaric system of slaughtering wildlife to a system that respects wild animals’ inherent right to life, while at the same time protecting peoples’ property,” the Mendocino Non-lethal Wildlife Alliance Steering Committee wrote in a letter to the editor in 2019.
Focusing on non-lethal methods, development for Mendocino County’s new program is informed by wildlife exclusion initiatives by neighbors, including Sonoma and Marin counties. Wildlife exclusion aims to reduce negative interactions between animals and humans, rather than punishing animals for living in or being attracted to habitats on which we’ve encroached. Further, using non-lethal methods is also seen as more environmentally friendly, recognizing the importance of animals including raccoons, coyotes, skunks, and bears in contributing to pest and insect control and regulating our ecosystems.
But the county still has resources for dealing with persistent issues or dangers from large predators, including eventually resorting to lethal methods. That’s where CDFW comes in.
“Non-lethal methods are their primary go-to when it comes to the advice, education, and outreach they provide to consumers and property owners,” Smith explained, but added, “They are the only agency permitted to issue depredation permits and only do so when it is ultimately necessary. There are a number of policies that CDFW uses these days to handle large predatory animal depredation on livestock, that involves a three-strike model.”
The program is also still in its data collection stage; AWM has dedicated a staff person each day to man phone lines and collect metrics for what kinds of wildlife issues are most common in Mendocino County. Of 53 calls so far, only one has been about a wildlife nuisance, but Smith hopes this will shift as the public becomes aware of the county’s resources.
“The program that we’re doing right now is really just collecting the information,” Haschak explained. “It’s not going to cost anything.”
Partnering departments will check in monthly and plan to report back to the board with an update in six months.
Note: Kate Fishman covers the environment & natural resources for The Mendocino Voice in partnership with a Report For America. Her position is funded by the Community Foundation of Mendocino, Report for America, & our readers. You can support Fishman’s work with a tax-deductible donation here or by emailing [email protected]. Contact her at KFishman@mendovoice.com or at (707) 234-7735. The Voice maintains editorial control and independence.