Coyotes Get A Reprieve
ranchers cut damage from predators the humane way
A humane program aimed at
combating coyotes on West Marin rangeland has worked so well that
lethal devices are unnecessary, officials said.
Marin's novel "holistic" livestock protection program - the only
one of its kind in the state and possibly the nation - doesn't
involve trapping or killing predators, county agriculture officials
Instead, a mix of guard dogs, guard llamas, electric fences,
strobes, radio devices and sheep bells keep livestock losses under
"We've struck a medium here with the non-lethal program," said
longtime Tomales sheep rancher Bill Jensen. "It's a win-win deal
The $40,000-per-year Marin County Livestock Protection Program is
up for a five-year renewal from the county starting in the 2006-07
budget, Marin Agricultural Commissioner Stacy Carlsen told county
Carlsen said the five-year effort has resulted in an average annual
loss of 2.2 percent among the 6,700 sheep in the program,
compared to a more than 5 percent average annual loss under a previous trapping arrangement.
That bodes well for quashing skepticism about using progressive
livestock protection techniques, he said.
"I know this is the agricultural equivalent of peacock feathers and
hot tubs," quipped Marin Supervisor Steve Kinsey, who represents
West Marin on the county board. "Stacy's colleagues in the ag
community thought he had buckled his Birkenstocks too tight."
Money for the program helps ranchers build electric fences, install
strobes and radio devices or purchase guard animals. It also helps
with veterinarian bills and allows ranchers to stay in business,
said Tomales sheep producer Joe Pozzi, wool buyer for Pure Grow
"I don't see this in other counties," Pozzi told supervisors this
Pozzi's ranch is among 18 in the program, out of 29 ranches
operating in Marin. The 18 ranch participants are equipped with a
total 22 guard dogs, 19 guard llamas, 24.6 miles of electric
fencing and 16 strobe and radio devices.
Supervisor Susan Adams said she would be happy to entertain a
budget bid from Carlsen for another five years.
"This is why the royals are interested in visiting here," Adams
said, referring to last weekend's stop in West Marin by Prince
Charles of Walesand his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, to see
examples of organic
arming and "green" businesses.
In 2000, Carlsen created the one-of-a-kind Marin program following
bitter conflict among animal protection activists, environmental
groups and ranchers over a trap-and-kill program run by the U.S.
That effort not only trapped coyotes using non-humane strangulation
neck snares, poisons and aerial gunning, but also inadvertently
killed skunks, bobcats, wolves, raccoons, foxes and the occasional
"I know of no other community in the country that has a program
like Marin in wildlife protection," said Camilla Fox, director of
wildlife programs for the Sacramento-based Animal Protection
Institute. "The beauty of it is that we now have almost five years
of data that demonstrates the success of the program."
Jensen, who has more than 600 head of old English breed black and
white sheep on 590 acres, has three guard dogs, two guard llamas
and seven or eight miles of electrified fencing.
The sheep wear bells at night to alert the guard dogs, who wake up
and scare the coyotes away.
The llamas scare the coyotes with their large and aggressive
presence, Jensen said. Only one male gelding llama is used per
flock so the llama bonds with the sheep herd and not other
Jensen said he loses an average of 25 to 30 sheep annually, mostly
to coyotes. That is on par with earlier losses, but he said he sees
the stable number as a success, given the growing coyote
"The coyote is a cunning coward," said Jensen, whose extended
family has farmed thousands of acres in the Tomales area for more
than a century. "They come into your field and they want to kill
something, but if something bothers them - a guard dog or llama
decides to chase them, or they get a shock from an electric fence -
they just leave and go somewhere else."
Under the program, ranchers also have the right to shoot coyotes
with rifles if they see them infiltrating their flocks.
"Stacy Carlsen and the Marin County supervisors have done a
yeoman's job on this program," Jensen said. "They've gone out of
their way to make sure there's some tangible results."
Although losses vary from ranch to ranch and from year to year, on
balance, the program has enabled Jensen and his colleagues to
remain in agriculture and hang on to their land. Jensen's 240-acre
ranch and an adjacent 350-acre Mitchell family ranch - which Jensen
leases - are part of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, which
offers a one-time compensation to ranchers and farmers in exchange
for keeping their land in agriculture in perpetuity.
Some of Jensen's ranchland has never been bought or sold and was
acquired by the family through homesteading in 1849.
"We just want to hang on and keep it going because we like living
out here," said Jensen, 53. "I've got kids, and I would like
to be able to give it all to them."