Marin Independent Journal

Non-lethal plan ok’d to protect livestock in Marin

November 1, 2000
Richard Halstead, Staff Writer

Marin will halt killing coyotes and other predators to protect sheep, under a controversial management plan the Board of Supervisors approved yesterday that brought mixed reactions from ranchers and wildlife advocates.The five-year plan calls for the county in 18 months to phase out the use of lethal techniques, including trapping, in controlling coyotes and to adopt non-lethal methods, including possibly recruiting shepherds from Mongolia or Peru to watch over herds.

The plan comes after months of wrangling and fighting among ranchers, wildlife advocates and various county and federal officials over the best methods for protecting sheep.In general, wildlife advocates were a lot more satisfied with the plan than ranchers, who fear that the sole use of non-lethal methods will be inadequate.

Supervisor Hal Brown, who cast the only opposing vote, shared ranchers’ concerns.”Just wait until these farmers and ranchers go out of business,” he said, referring to the financial impact of losing livestock to predators. “You’ll see those condos pop up real fast.”Under the plan, the county, by June 30, 2002, will sever its contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a wildlife specialist who tracks and traps predators and also educates ranchers on non-lethal techniques for protecting livestock.

The county will provide $15,000 to pay the salary of a wildlife specialist for the rest of this fiscal year and $37,500 for non-lethal approaches during the same period.The contract for overseeing the management program then will be transferred to the Northbay Woolgrowers Association or some other industry group.

Although some wildlife advocates questioned the timing of the changes and also the move to place control for the administration of the program in the hands of the Woolgrowers Association, others praised the general direction of the plan.”The bottom line is we think this is a good approach because it shifts the incentives,” said Suzanne Roy, program director for In Defense of Animals.”I feel we’ve made some headway, found some common ground,” said Camilla Fox, a wildlife program coordinator for the [Sacramento]-based Animal Protection Institute.

A USDA wildlife specialist quit last year because of acrimony surrounding his work. Then, the USDA refused to sign a new contract with the county after supervisors voted to ban “denning,” which involves gassing coyote pups to death in their den. The practice prevents cubs whose mother has been killed from starving to death.

Simmons also scoffed at the idea that shepherds could be effective in preventing coyotes from killing sheep.Mary Paglieri, director of Little Blue Society, a San Mateo County-based non-profit that specializes in helping people and wildlife co-exist, has suggested enlisting shepherds from Peru or Mongolia to watch over herds.”These people are well-versed in shepherding; they’ve been doing it all their lives,” Paglieri said.

Simmons was skeptical.”We do not recommend herders in Marin county. It doesn’t make any sense,” he said. Shepherds are used in areas where fencing is impractical and even then “herders have not been able to stop losses,” Simmons said.While ranchers say they will be glad to have a wildlife specialist in place over the next 18 months, they bemoaned the overall direction of the plan.

Longtime rancher LeRoy Erickson said he has lost 27 sheep to predators in the last six weeks. “Ranching is a marginal occupation. Each animal I lose is a big loss to me,” Erickson said.Proposition 4, which passed in 1998, outlawed a number of animal traps and poisons used to control predators.”Now we don’t have any tools to do anything,” Erickson said.Ranchers said that if they were to permanently lose their wildlife specialist it would be a big blow.”Family farmers will have no alternative but to take matters into their own hands,” said Roxanne Thornton, owner of the Thornton Dairy and Sheep Ranch in Tomales.

In his report to the supervisors, Marin Agricultural Commissioner Stacy Carlsen said that some ranchers already are offering bounties to remove predators from their properties.  Carlsen acknowledged that neither ranchers nor wildlife protection advocates are entirely satisfied with the new plan.”No matter which way you move the target, nobody’s going to be 100 percent happy,” he said.

Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at This story can be found at: Richard Halstead via e-mail at rhalstead@marinij.com