Sunday, July 16, 2006
|A pile of dead coyotes from one day's hunt by federal trappers using aerial gunning and trap retrieval methods.
Federal trappers peddle services to Santa Clara County; environmentalists gird for fight
a repeat of what occurred in San Benito five years ago, Santa Clara
County is contemplating signing on to a federal coyote-killing program
that benefits few but is paid for by all.
A subcommittee of
county supervisors, chaired by Supervisors Don Gage and Pete McHugh,
were slated to listen to a pitch from the USDA Wildlife Services
Thursday night during a public meeting in San Jose to consider whether
to buy the agency's trapping services.
The federal trappers
use controversial methods considered inhumane and unnecessary by
environmentalists and animal rights groups, and include the use of
indiscriminate neck snare traps that kill thousands of untargeted
animals, clubbing of coyote pups and lethal "smoking" of coyote family
dens with carbon dioxide cartridges.
Until 2001, San Benito
County used the same services of two federal trappers to annihilate the
area's coyote population, ostensibly to protect ranchers' livestock.
Though no environmental study on the problem had ever been attempted,
and while no ranchers had reported any cattle killings to the local
Fish and Game office, the trappers killed nearly 3,000 coyotes and
their pups a year in the county - the highest reported for any county
in the state.
But since squirrels and rodents, say
biologists, are the main staple of the coyote diet, the extermination
caused an explosion in the ground squirrel population, which has proven
to be more deadly to cattle than what the coyotes did. The ground
squirrels burrow in pastures, which cause stock to stumble in the holes
and go lame, in addition to having to compete with the rodents for
At that time it cost San Benito taxpayers
$60,000 a year for the USDA trapping, with half the cost offset by a
reimbursement of state gasoline tax to the county - also provided by
Public outcry brought the subsidy to an
end, but last year San Benito's ag commissioner hinted that a group of
ranchers and farmers re-contracted the trappers on a private basis. He
would not elaborate when pressed for details.
same proposition which would target wildlife mostly in the rural areas
surrounding Gilroy, Morgan Hill and the Mount Hamilton range has
stirred a loud opposition from local pro-wildlife groups such as Little
Blue Society, a nonprofit organization based in the South Valley, which
works to resolve human-animal conflicts in the region.
are always looking for government to provide all these services to
them," said Henry Coletto, director of LBS's program implementation and
Santa Clara's former game warden of 35 years. "In the old days the
rancher would take care of any problem himself but today they seem to
be too lazy to do that."
For years, a statewide law has been
in effect which allows people to shoot coyotes or any other "varmints"
such as ground squirrels on their property, at any time.
like San Benito, Santa Clara officials are considering the same lethal
program without any ecological studies showing that coyotes are a major
problem for ranching. In Santa Clara's case, officials of its Vector
Control District are using different tactics: a fear of rabies; and the
argument that the county could save money in destroying "nuisance
wildlife" by giving the job to the federal trappers. Vector Control's
goal is to control disease in the area, such as West Nile Virus carried
It is not clear how paying federal Wildlife Services would save the county money, but the argument against rabies is a weak one.
a proposal to the county, ag director Greg Van Wassenhove cites three
incidents of nuisance wildlife throughout the county, which occurred
throughout April and May. In one case, three skunks were under a Morgan
Hill house, and in another two opossums were living under a San Jose
home. Vector Control trapped the animals and had them killed through
Animal Control. All tested negative for rabies.
incident, Vector Control caught three coyotes and one coyote pup in
leg-hold traps after they were caught sunning themselves near someone's
backyard pool in Saratoga. Apparently, the resident had left pet food
on his porch. All the coyotes were killed and, again, tested negative
Van Wassenhove's report comes with several lists
of rabies activity from "nuisance wildlife" in the county dating back
to 2003 - or rather, non-activity. Of the hundreds of mammals Vector
Control killed in the last three years, only one skunk tested positive
for rabies back in 2003. Over the course of four years, four bats also
Vector Control spokesperson Chris Costa was not available for comment as of deadline, and neither was Van Wasserhove.
and colleague Mary Paglieri, director of Little Blue Society, believe
that monetary considerations do not take precedence over "our moral and
ethical obligations," Paglieri said.
"Vector Control has no
business dealing with wildlife," Paglieri added. "They view these
animals as bags of diseases. Every animal they trap at people's homes
they kill, instead of re-releasing them within a two-mile radius as
authorized by the state Fish and Game. They even kill the babies."
finds it ironic that the county's Vector Control would want to hire
federal trappers to eliminate needed "keystone" predators such as
coyotes which keep disease-carrying rodent populations in check.
they killed most of the coyotes in San Jose and Almaden Valley, people
started complaining that rodents were getting into their walls,"
Paglieri and Coletto are hoping the county
takes a more educational approach, and use the methods their
organization does to teach people how to humanely discourage wildlife
from invading their properties. Little Blue Society documents a long
list of successes in that regard.
Melissa Hippard, director
of the local Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club, agrees that the
best balanced ecosystem is one that gets there naturally.
humans get involved, we tend to impact that equilibrium," Hippard said.
"By just eliminating coyotes, you end up with negative impacts like
booming squirrel and rodent populations. It's a species related to many