July 23, 2006
Federal USDA wildlife trappers may not get past subcommittee
advocates won a preliminary victory last week when Santa Clara's
five-member Animal Advisory Committee voted unanimously against hiring
federal trappers to obliterate "nuisance wildlife," including
The committee will make a report for
the HEWLET commission, consisting of two supervisors who, on Aug. 17,
could ultimately decide whether or not to use the USDA Wildlife
Services in the county. If the vote is split the decision will go to
the entire five-member board of supervisors.
Clara's Vector Control is in charge of obliterating what's called
"nuisance wildlife" from the region. That can include skunks or
opossums that take residence under a house or a lone coyote whose
habitat is so encroached by development that it seeks food sources
closer to suburban areas.
"If the USDA comes into this
county, more animals will be killed," said Mary Paglieri, head of the
San Mateo-based Little Blue Society, an organization that works to
resolve animal-human conflicts throughout Northern California.
of Vector Control want to bring in a controversial trapping program
offered by the USDA's Wildlife Services, which involves inhumane
methods of killing wildlife. The trappers use painful neck snare traps
to kill coyotes, a steel noose that slowly strangles the canines and
can take days to kill. But neck snare trapping is indiscriminate
because it targets unintended wildlife, such as deer, badgers and
endangered San Joaquin kit foxes, among others, which come across the
In their quest to eradicate coyotes, the federal
trappers also use carbon dioxide cartridges which they throw into
coyote family dens to smoke out the animals, and use clubs to pummel
coyote pups to death - a method they call "denning." The program costs
all county taxpayers $70,000 a year.
At the meeting before
the Santa Clara Animal Advisory Committee last week, representatives
from USDA Wildlife Services trapping program gave their pitch, saying
they would concentrate on urban wildlife, such as eliminating birds
from the airport. Oddly, they claimed their role was to protect
wildlife and that they would target only "nuisance wildlife."
"That must be quite a talent to target only nuisance species with those neck snare traps," Paglieri said ruefully.
also made a presentation, imploring the committee to decline the USDA
services and to use more educational, non-lethal methods of controlling
nuisance wildlife. Her nonprofit group works with sheep and cattle
ranchers, farmers and other residents who have encountered repeated
problems with wildlife, and has succeeded where offensive, lethal
methods have failed.
"There are so many wonderful devices
people can use to accomplish this, depending on each situation, what
food sources are present and other factors," she added.
is urging Santa Clara officials to allow Animal Control Services to
handle euthanizing wildlife, but Vector Control's Greg Van Wassenhove
told the committee that if the county doesn't hire the trappers, his
agency - which oversees Animal Control -- would no longer deal with any
animal nuisance problems. He said his Animal Control officers would be
in danger of the wildlife.
It's an idea that Paglieri's group finds appealing but not practical.
he was making a threat," Paglieri said. "I contacted animal control in
San Francisco, and they are offering to provide training to Santa
Clara's Animal Control. All the resources are there."
present at the meeting was Camilla Fox, director of the nationwide
Animal Protection Institute based in Sacramento. Fox also talked of
more humane non-lethal methods for discouraging nuisance wildlife and
Some ranchers claim coyotes attack their stock,
especially weaker, sick or smaller animals such as calves. But other
ranchers say coyote attacks or uncommon, and that they have had more
problems with the booming population of ground squirrels that has
exploded onto their pastures in the wake of attempts to kill off their
main predators - coyotes' favorite food are rabbits, rats, squirrels
and other rodents. Ground squirrels eat pasture grasses and make
burrows in the ground that can trip stock and cause injury.
neighboring San Benito County, USDA trappers plied their trade for
years until 2001, when public pressure forced the board of supervisors
to end the agreement. But according to SBC Agricultural Commissioner
Paul Matulich, a group of ranchers hired the trappers on their own for
several years. The result has been an unchecked rodent population out
"We've been selling ground squirrel bait faster than we can keep it in stock," Matulich said.
squirrel poison the county sells to ranchers is an anti-blood
coagulant. When squirrels eat it, it takes weeks for them to die.
Biologists say it can cause secondary poisonings to predators that eat
the tainted squirrels that have yet to die. Recently, 11 California
condors from the Pinnacles National Monument were found to have
elevated levels of lead poisoning in their blood after they feasted on
a hillside of lead-shot squirrels.
The nearly extinct birds
also dined on dead squirrels in a nearby pasture that was peppered with
county squirrel bait traps, and the birds had to be given painful
Vitamin D shots to counteract the squirrel poisoning.
said there are better ways to rid an area of ground squirrels. Aside
from leaving coyotes alone, ranchers can use ultrasound devices -
spikes that emit annoying noise in the ground - and smelly repellant
that the rodents also avoid. To keep coyotes away, simply changing the
scenery can help. Parking a pickup truck at different places on the
property can unnerve the canines, she said.
"Coyotes are extremely sensitive to their surroundings," she said.
Matulich dismisses the idea that coyotes are keystone predators that keep rodent populations down.
are plenty of coyotes up there (in south county) and they aren't
keeping the squirrel population down," Matulich said. "That's because
they can't catch them. They have to chase them down and grab them.
Coyotes don't take enough of them to make a difference."
Wildlife experts disagree.
are omnivores," said Janet Alexander, certified wildlife rehabilitator
and director of the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley. "They are
predators and as such prefer small rodents, and that includes ground
squirrels. It is the preferred part of their diet. And when you trap
and kill these animals, your going to see a huge increase in the preyed
species. They need to look at the whole big picture."
is a member of the county's Animal Advisory Committee but she recused
herself from last week's vote on the USDA trapping decision. Like
Little Ble Society, her organization also plans to put together an
alternative proposal for dealing with wildlife to the board of
Ranchers say last year the rabbit population
exploded as well. This year, an overflowing ground squirrel population
matched the rabbit swarms.
"It's been real bad this year,"
said Sue Borba of the Borba Rodeo Ranch in the Griswold Pass, south of
Panoche Valley. "I find rats and squirrels dead in my water buckets
every day. And they eat everything." As she talked, seven rabbits
scurried from her dirt driveway into nearby chaparral.
said plants she brings home, such as jasmine and tomatoes don't last a
day before getting stripped by squirrels, rabbits and rodents.
Matulich said that last year the group of ranchers who hired the federal trappers opted out of buying their services.
"They gave it up last year because of the cost," Matulich said. "They didn't want to pay the $70,000."
He also said that as of 2006, he has had no complaints of coyotes killing stock.
Don Gage and Pete McHugh, the subcommittee that deals in wildlife
problems and health issues, will consider the recommendations of the
Animal Advisory Committee on Aug. 17 in the board chambers on 70 West
Hedding St. in San Jose. The meeting starts at 10 a.m. If the vote
whether to use Wildlife Services trappers is split, the issue will go
to the full board.