Written by David Greenwald Wednesday, 18 July 2012 07:17
After listening to more than an hour of passionate, often personalized stories from the community about Davis' values regarding wildlife, Mayor Joe Krovoza had heard enough.
"The city moves to discontinue the use of USDA animal services at this time and direct staff to come back to us with alternatives for wildlife management services in the city," Mayor Krovoza moved on Tuesday night.
The mayor noted that under the terms of this contract, the USDA could come in, unbeknownst to the city and kill an animal, and the city has no say over how and when that would be conducted and worse yet, is paying for that service.
Whereas if John McNerney, the city's Wildlife Resource Specialist, were called in, he would assess the actual threat level presented by the animal and possibly find another way to resolve it.
"Just the management of this contract and the way it's playing out doesn't match this community's values," Mayor Krovoza continued. "My question is, why is it necessary to continue this contract?"
The mayor referenced the three-part story in the Sacramento Bee, beginning April 29, which referred to the wildlife services as "the killing agency" and chronicled their brutal methods of killing animals that pose little danger to cattle and humans.
Wrote the Bee, "Since 2000, its employees have killed nearly a million coyotes, mostly in the West. They have destroyed millions of birds, from nonnative starlings to migratory shorebirds, along with a colorful menagerie of more than 300 other species, including black bears, beavers, porcupines, river otters, mountain lions and wolves."
It added, "And in most cases, they have officially revealed little or no detail about where the creatures were killed, or why. But a Bee investigation has found the agency's practices to be indiscriminate, at odds with science, inhumane and sometimes illegal."
"What this agency is doing in the Sacramento Valley is absolutely appalling and we're participating in it, the story came out, they haven't gotten any kind of a message, they go out and they shoot coyotes on city property that we're contracting with," Mayor Krovoza said.
The public weighed in loud and clear with more than 20 people speaking at the public comment portion of the meeting that began at 9:30 pm.
"I don't know why in the heck the USDA people thought that they could come into our city area and kill five coyotes without calling somebody in city government, it's crazy," former Councilmember Michael Harrington said.
Cayce Wallace said, "I was shocked that our city officials weren't notified, that we didn't have a big 'to go to' plan. The Davis coyotes don't need management, they do need certainly a co-existing plan."
Alan Miller told the council, "Living with our environment is part of what makes most of us citizens of Davis. One of my pet peeves is persons who buy a house and fail to take into account the surroundings in which they will live and then expect the government to fix the problem for them at taxpayer expense. This is most egregious when most people in that environment enjoy what annoys the chronic complainer."
Gene Trapp, a retired field biologist, asked why people's first response to wild life is "ah, kill it."
He spoke on behalf of Project Coyote, who he said has worked with 11 cities to develop plans for co-existence with coyotes.
"We don't have to re-invent any wheels here," he said. "We can use models and form our Davis humane plan for co-existence with coyotes."
A few techniques he said they suggested using include, "Don't feed wildlife intentionally or unintentionally by leaving cat food outside or in a garage where there's a cat door coming in. Do not let cats and dogs roam freely in town especially at night... Enforce leash laws, unleashed cats and dogs are a danger to wildlife, to other dogs, and to people."
Steve Greco, an ecologist who teaches at UC Davis, argued for a wildlife management plan through a separate commission working with John McNerney and the Natural Resources Commission.
"I don't know why we are so upset with the particular occasion," he said. "This happens in Davis, a lot. I don't know why this particular one exploded in emotion. There have been coyotes killed in North Davis for years."
"It's been going on for a long time," he added. "This isn't the first time, it's not going to be the last time."
Sharon Montoof, a resident of Wildhorse, jogs on the fields three days a week and sees the coyotes periodically, "It's always a thrill when I get to see a coyote."
She got to see the litter of coyotes and said, "It was pretty devastating to learn that they were shot and killed."
She added, "The one good thing is that this won't work. The coyotes will be back. I just really want to have a plan in place in the future where we don't repeat this.
On Monday, John McNerney expressed his concerns to the Vanguard over how this situation was handled.
"I think what is most frustrating and most concerning is the unilateral way this was handled," he said. "The fact that I [as the City's Wildlife Manager] was not brought into any of the decision making leading up to the removal of these animals is very concerning for the city."
"We would have preferred to have been in dialogue with the USDA trapper prior to the decision to remove the animals," he added.
Mr. McNerney expressed similar concerns on Tuesday night to the council and the public.
The council wanted to know if this was business as usual for the USDA operating within the city of Davis, or whether this was an anomaly.
"Their record keeping is less than desirable so it's difficult to pull up the numbers," Mr. McNerney responded.
The Davis City Council shared Mayor Krovoza's disgust and disappointment in the process.
Councilmember Brett Lee said, "It seems like the first step, which would be inexpensive and relatively quick to do, would be to require that the USDA before they remove a certain list of species checks in with us and gets from us written approval."
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs told the council and the public, "I was pretty disgusted by this actions, I think it was totally senseless and it was an absolute breakdown in communication. It's something at a bare minimum that absolutely needs to be addressed."
"It just seems like this is a blank check," Joe Krovoza said referring to the terms of the contract. "We can say we're taking back the blank check until we know what it means."
The question was whether this course of action would put the community at risk. John McNerney at first seemed to suggest that he would need additional help to run it by himself but then seemed to indicate that the community would be fine without the contracted services from the USDA.
Mayor Krovoza added to a motion originally made by Councilmember Dan Wolk, the first part of which was to express our anger and outrage to the USDA and insist upon being included in the future while pausing their involvement at this time. He added, "Friendly request is to drop the first part of your motion, I think we can communicate to them that we're terminating their contract."
The motion passed 5-0.
---David M. Greenwald reporting
We need more burrowing owls to eat all the ground squirrels.
Coyotes are rarely lethal to humans in California as shown by Wikipedia where only one fatality since 1978 occurred:
"In 1981 in Glendale, California, a coyote attacked toddler Kelly Keen, who was rescued by her father, but died in surgery due to blood loss and a broken neck."
However 35 less than lethal attacks on small children have occurred in the same period.
Another great City of Davis contract bites us in the butt. Why do we even have a City Attorney? If this contract has been problematic for a long time, why didn't the City Wildlife Manager get the contract changed to require his approval for kill runs through the town? Who knew we even had such a position? Why do we?
David, if the contract wasn't in the packet (I'll check), would you please provide a link? Must make interesting reading!
Interesting to know there was a contract giving the USDA the power to kill wildlife within the borders of Davis. I suspect this was a case where the city trusted the USDA to use good judgment, and no one from the city bothered to supervise the contract, not thinking they needed to. Sounds like the motion to rescind the contract was the right move - and then figure out some sort of wildlife management scheme.
When natural predators are removed, it can have unintended consequences. On the other hand, there probably needs to be a public education program to make sure people are not purposely or inadvertently feeding the coyotes. The city's wildlife specialist mentioned nonlethal harassment methods to discourage coyotes from getting too close to humans. I'm guessing the coyotes in question that were killed were probably seeking out a food source from either being purposely or inadvertently fed by humans and was the reason they seemed overly "aggressive".
Obviously there may be times, as is the case with bears, when a coyote may have to be destroyed if it doesn't get the message to stay a certain distance from humans. But I suspect that wouldn't be necessary too often...
On a note about process the coyote lovers were allowed to applaud and cheer one another last night. On other occasions I have seen the mayor admonish groups for communicating support for speakers. I recall him lecturing students for snapping their fingers one night. It does seem inconsistent and I ask the mayor to try to be more even handed in how he addresses such outbursts in the future.
I recognize he was trying to let the steam out of the kettle last night and it was a special session of the council. Still the largest underrepresented demographic in Davis politics, students, get lectured while old likely voter coyote lovers are allowed to howl. It doesn't seem right.
Personally I think that only in the most egregious cases should decorum take precedence over free speech. Let the coyote lovers howl but let the college kids snap their fingers too.
It was rewarding to see how passionate and caring this community is when it comes to its respect and dedication to our local wildlife. The community needed to vent and to grieve the tragedy of this mother coyote and her 4 pups which were needlessly and senselessly killed without any notification to our City whatsoever by USDA.
The positives that came out of this Council meeting is that the USDA got admonished as they so deserved for this senseless and unauthorized slaughter of animals which had done no harm. The USDA basically got fired as a result.
The other positive outcome was that the Urban Wildlife Program that so many of us fought to have for the City over ten years ago, and which the then City Council voted for 5-0, will finally materialize. Although passed by Council over a decade ago it got “shelved” somehow but we did not have a Wildlife Biologist then. The good news is we do now.
We are fortunate to have such a knowledgeable and dedicated Staff person like our Wildlife Resources Manager John McNerney who was clearly torn-up emotionally about these killings as well. He explained that he had observed this coyote family often on his daily runs near Wildhorse and never did he see any aggressive behavior from them. He works 24-7 helping our community to co-exist with our local wildlife and always has solutions and alternatives to the “lethal removals” that USDA is so anxious to use as a remedy apparently.
The 2000 Wagstaff City Council added these two action items to the General Plan:
l. Develop and implement an Urban Wildlife Program to coordinate habitat protection/expansion and wildlife conservation.
m. Maintain an inventory and map of locations of special status habit"
The CC last night directed staff to look into the status of these issues, and what was done to implement them.
The General Plan link is here: http://cityofdavis.org/cdd/gp/...-Areas.pdf
I hope this was more than verbiage stuck in there by electeds.