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County Suspends Contract with Controversial Federal Agency

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Mendocino County will assess non-lethal means of managing predators and livestock | Photo: John Morgan/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Mendocino County, on California's North Coast, has decided to hold off on renewing a contract with a controversial federal agency that kills predators and other animals. The move came as a result of a lawsuit filed in November by wildlife protection activists, who charged the county had violated state law in renewing its contract with the agency, which has attracted increasing controversy over its aims and methods.

Wildlife Services, an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, kills approximately 80,000 wild animals annually in California, usually at the behest of agricultural interests. Coyotes are a primary target of Wildlife Services' activities, but the agency also kills pumas, foxes, and bears, as well as non-target animals such as raptors and even household pets.

Activists had urged Mendocino County in 2014 not to renew its contract with Wildlife Services, citing successful programs in neighboring Marin and Sonoma counties to manage predators through non-lethal means. Mendocino County supervisors went ahead and renewed the contract anyway, prompting several groups and a county resident to file suit against the county in November.

The plaintiffs charged that the County had violated the California Environmental Quality Act by failing to conduct an environmental review of Wildlife Services' activities before renewing its contract with the federal agency. Under the terms of the previous contract, the county had agreed to pay Wildlife Services $142,356 in exchange for killing hundreds of coyotes each year, along with bobcats, bears, and foxes.

On Monday, Mendocino County supervisors agreed in a court settlement to suspend and review the contract, in return for which the plaintiffs -- Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Welfare Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Project Coyote -- dropped the lawsuit.

Sonoma County, to the south of Mendocino, severed its working relationship with Wildlife Services in 2013. Marin County has been prioritizing non-lethal predator management for 15 years, reducing livestock losses, predator mortality, and costs all at the same time.

As part of this new settlement, Mendocino County will assess some of those same non-lethal predator management techniques, and will conduct an environmental review before considering another contract with Wildlife Services.

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