The California Superior Court issued an order on October 24, 2016 denying Monterey County's motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed in June by a coalition of animal protection and conservation organizations including the Mountain Lion Foundation that challenges the county's contract renewal with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services.
According to the lawsuit, Monterey County's renewal of its contract with Wildlife Services violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) because the county failed to analyze environmental impacts and wrongfully claimed an exemption from the Act. In the October 24 ruling, the court rejected arguments made by Monterey County that this lawsuit was filed too late and brought against the wrong parties.
Wildlife Services is a controversial killing agency that has trapped, snared, poisoned and shot more than 3,500 mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats and many other animals inMonterey County over the past six years, largely in the name of protecting livestock.
"Livestock depredation is mainly preventable through non-lethal conflict prevention strategies," said Lynn Cullens, Executive Director of the Mountain Lion Foundation. "Using Wildlife Services for indisriminate killing of native predators comes at a high cost, not just for taxpayers, but ultimately for the health of our ecosystems."
"Monterey County taxpayers should be aware that they're footing the bill for this program and for the county's aggressive legal defense in this case," said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "We hope our lawsuit spurs Monterey County to realize that people don't want their tax dollars used to evade environmental laws and eradicate wildlife, such as coyotes and other predators, who control rodents to the benefit of the county's farmers."
"An increasing body of evidence demonstrates that Wildlife Services' lethal predator-control program is ecologically destructive, ethically indefensible and economically unjustifiable," said Camilla Fox, Founder and Executive Director of Project Coyote. "This federal agency bears the burden of proof to justify their actions using the best available science, which we have demonstrated it has failed to do."
"We are glad to see that the judge was not misguided by any of the tactics used to minimize the simple fact that the county needs to comply with CEQA before hiring Wildlife Services," said Tara Zuardo, Animal Welfare Institute wildlife attorney.
Nationwide USDA Wildlife Services killed more than 3.2 million animals in 2015 alone. The agency's secretive and indiscriminate use of poison, snares and traps has also injured people and killed more than 1,100 dogs since 2000.
Peer-reviewed research shows that such reckless slaughter of animals - particularly predators - is not only cruel and inhumane but also results in broad ecological destruction and loss of biodiversity. The program's controversial killing methods have come under increased scrutiny from scientists, the public and government officials. Wildlife Services also kills many threatened and endangered species, as well as family pets with its indiscriminate and destructive practices.
Earlier this year, the Mountain Lion Foundation was part of the coalition of wildlife conservation groups that set a ground-breaking precedent by successfully petitioning Mendocino County to terminate their contract with Wildlife Services unless and until that county complies with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), including consideration of nonlethal predator control methods.
The Monterey County lawsuit now moves forward, with an opening legal brief by the wildlife conservation coalition slated for November. Monterey County has recently retained an outside law firm from Sacramento to represent it in the case.
The current lawsuit is brought by a Monterey County resident, the 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.