A coalition of conservation groups won their case against Monterey County which has had to suspend its program of killing animals determined to be pests by farmers and ranchers.
The Superior Court of California ruled last week that the contract Monterey County entered into with the United States Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services program to control wildlife violated state law by failing to conduct an environmental analysis.
Animals such as coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, raccoons and rodents who are reported to have caused damage to property or pose a threat can be reported to Wildlife Services who will eliminate them. This practice has been stopped until an analysis of its effect on the environment is concluded.
The lawsuit was filed June 1, 2016 by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and several other conservation groups.
Monterey County has contracted with the USDA Wildlife Services for the past 25 yearson behalf of property owners to control animals that are causing damage or are a threat to public safety. The county renewed the work plan from the previous fiscal year, claiming an exemption from the environmental review.
The lawsuit focused on whether the County should have done a California Environmental Quality Act environmental analysis before signing an annual work plan for the program.
The California Superior Court ruled that Monterey County's contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program must comply with CEQA, and that the 2016 exemption and work plan must be voided.
The County is reviewing the ruling in regard to options going forward. The Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, which holds the contract with USDA Wildlife Services, began an environmental review of the program work plan before the lawsuit began, according to a statement by the County.
That draft environmental impact report will be completed and available for public review on Aug. 17. Representatives from the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office declined to speak about the report until that time.
Environmental groups hailed the decision to halt the Wildlife Services program to kill predators and other native wildlife without conducting an environmental analysis.
Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney with the Animal Welfare Institute said, “It is appalling that Wildlife Services, a little known federal program, uses taxpayer dollars to slaughter millions of wild animals annually. We applaud the court in this case for calling out Monterey County for violating state law and recognizing the significant environmental impact of Wildlife Service’s unnecessary and inhumane slaughter of wildlife in the county.”
Monterey County’s previous contract authorized Wildlife Services to kill hundreds of coyotes, as well as bobcats, mountain lions and other animals every year without fully assessing the ecological damage or considering alternatives, according to a statement by the conservation groups.
The groups noted that from June 2014 to June 2015, Wildlife Services killed 105 coyotes, three mountain lions, and two bobcats in the county. Over the past six years, Wildlife Services has killed more than 3,500 animals in Monterey County using traps, snares and firearms.
A Monterey County resident joined with Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Project Coyote and the Mountain Lion Foundation to file the lawsuit that led to this outcome.
The ruling states: "The County was required to comply with CEQA review procedures before it executed the 2016 Plan. The County abused its discretion and violated CEQA by approving the 2016 Plan before completing any initial study and issuing an EIR (environmental impact report), negative declaration, or other authorized CEQA document."
The court documents also indicate that the county claimed to be practicing an Integrated Wildlife Damage Management program since 1993 but that program was never consistently articulated and any analysis of wildlife elimination, especially top predators, was never completed.