Feather River Action! and Project Coyote Sue Plumas and Sierra Counties Over Taxpayer-Funded Wildlife Killing


Environmental Violations, Animal Cruelty and Threat to Wolves Cited in New Lawsuit

Quincy, Calif. — Feather River Action! and Project Coyote jointly filed a lawsuit yesterday against Plumas and Sierra counties for violating the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to stop the illegal killing of wildlife without the legally required environmental review. 

The lawsuit challenges the county’s failure to conduct the CEQA review of its $76,623 taxpayer-funded contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services program. This contract authorizes Wildlife Services, a highly controversial federal program, to kill hundreds of animals in these counties every year without assessing the ecological impacts of widespread killing and without considering alternative non-lethal management strategies. 

Each year, Wildlife Services indiscriminately kills millions of animals nationwide — approximately 80,000 in California alone — largely at the behest of commercial agriculture. Wolves, a protected species in California, are particularly at risk from USDA Wildlife Services’ activities, which killed 1,921 coyotes and thousands of other animals in Plumas and Sierra counties over the past decade.

Records indicate that in just one year, USDA Wildlife Services killed more than 1,100 muskrats in Plumas and Sierra counties. Muskrats play a similar ecological role to beavers, 247 of whom were killed by local Wildlife Services employees over the past ten years. Wildlife Services operates across 35 of 52 California counties. 

Across the country, Wildlife Services’ outdated program continues to rely on the use of indiscriminate and often inhumane tools to kill native wildlife including snares, poisons and aerial gunning. Condemned by professional scientists with the American Society of Mammalogists since the early 20th century, this taxpayer-subsidized program continues to focus on lethal and non-selective killing practices despite widespread availability and efficacy of non-lethal methods and husbandry practices.

“In all my years of trying to work with Wildlife Services, I have yet to encounter any willingness from the program to consider the best available science demonstrating that nonlethal is the most effective way to protect livestock,” said Michelle Lute, PhD in wildlife management and national carnivore conservation manager for Project Coyote. “Instead, they consistently insist on retaining every archaic tool in their lethal arsenal even when it repeatedly endangers people’s children and companion animals and does little to protect livestock. Fortunately, California has CEQA, a law that protects people and the environment from a rogue program that should be named Wildlife Disservices.”

Wildlife Services spends more than $100 million annually nationwide in taxpayer dollars to kill over one million animals, including birds, beavers, coyotes, mountain lions, bears, wolves and other animals. These killings occur despite peer-reviewed research showing that reckless slaughter of native carnivores causes broad ecological destruction and is not proven to protect livestock or reduce human conflicts with wildlife.

In 2016, wildlife advocates, including Project Coyote, successfully sued Mendocino County, requiring the county to perform a full Environmental Impact Report of their contract with Wildlife Services pursuant to CEQA. Last year, Mendocino County ultimately chose to end its contract with Wildlife Services and instead pursue non-lethal strategies for wildlife management.

This follows on the heels of Marin County, which ended its contract with Wildlife Services in 2000 and adopted a non-lethal cost-share program to assist ranchers with implementation of non-lethal methods, such as fencing and guardian animals, to reduce conflicts between wildlife and livestock. Non-lethal methods precipitated a 62% decline in coyote predation on sheep in Marin from 2002 to 2011, according to the Marin County Department of Agriculture.

Despite efforts by Project Coyote and Feather River Action! to urge the Plumas and Sierra County Board of Supervisors to follow a similar path and comply with CEQA by considering the destructive ecological impacts of their contract with Wildlife Services, the board chose instead to renew their contract with no environmental review and little to no consideration of effective nonlethal alternatives. 

“Many of us were horrified to learn that our local taxes were funding this cruel and unnecessary killing program,” said Joshua Hart, spokesperson for Feather River Action! “While Plumas County is losing county staff due to stagnant wages, a publicly-funded killing program for private ranching interests continues to be fully funded by the Board of Supervisors year after year. Wildlife Services’ methods are cruel, unjust and harm the ecological fabric of the Lost Sierra. Enough is enough.”

Canyon Mansfield with his dog Kasey who was killed by a Wildlife Services planted poison bomb

In the last decade, indiscriminate killing methods used by Wildlife Services have also killed more than 50,000 “non-target” animals, including wolves, companion animals, endangered California condors, bald eagles and other birds. Studies show such mass killing negatively impacts the biodiversity, health and function of ecosystems. 

Though these numbers are staggering, former employees allege that Wildlife Services routinely underreports the number of animals killed and does not include indirect deaths, such as secondary poisoning from the carcasses of animals that die from lethal sodium cyanide.

The plaintiffs are represented by lawyers with Greenfire Law, PC, and Donald L. Lipmanson, Esq.

Full text of lawsuit available here: Wildlife Services FRA! / PC Plumas/ Sierra Lawsuit


Project Coyote, a fiscally-sponsored project of Earth Island Institute, is a North American coalition of scientists, educators, conservationists, and community leaders promoting compassionate conservation and coexistence between humans and wildlife through education, science and advocacy. Visit ProjectCoyote.org for more information.

Feather River Action! (FRA!) is a grassroots organization based in Portola, Calif. FRA! monitors, publicizes, and defends against threats to the Feather River watershed including forest mismanagement, harmful wildlife policies and pollution and development threats. Visit FeatherRiverAction.org for more information.

Open Letter to Plumas Sierra Partners Regarding their Land NE of Portola

The land that was saved from becoming a mine now faces possibly harmful thinning.
Portola Riverwalk Park during the October storm.  This is where extensive forest clearing was recently completed. Erosion is always a concern where heavy vehicles cause damage to soils.

Last week I wrote to Linda and Ray of Plumas Sierra Partners, the folks who bought the land that Hat Creek Construction wanted to build a sand mine on last year. They are planning on “fuels reduction” on their land, and I thought it would be a good time to weigh in on this. Comments welcome below or feel free to weigh in directly with Plumas Sierra Partners by e-mailing them.

Dear Linda & Ray,

Hope you are well and enjoying the autumn. Someone forwarded me your update on the land NE of Portola that you (thankfully) bought to prevent the horrid sand mine on this spectacular ecological jewel of a place. Thank you again so much for providing the carrot and an “out” for Hat Creek. Your land is regionally important and loved by many of us. I am cc’ing our group Feather River Action! on this e-mail as others may want to weigh in also.
There is no doubt that the Dixie fire was terrifying for all of us in this community, and that people understandably want to do something to reduce the risk to persons and property, and to protect our forest. However, I want to encourage you and Ray to proceed extremely cautiously with the fire clearing. There have recently been local efforts at fire risk reduction that have been catastrophic for the ecology, and that many now regret. Examples are the Riverwalk and the area of forest west of Portola along the right hand side of A-15 coming out of town. I would hate to see that happen to your land.
Go and take a close look, and compare this to the health of untouched areas of forest. Large, heavy equipment has compressed the soil, destroyed animal burrows and shrubs, and hacked away at vegetation. As a result there was pretty heavy erosion and muddy runoff at the riverwalk during the last storms. (see below). The area of the forest west of Portola was cleared by “buncher fellers” about a year ago (which the city of Portola has now pledged to not use again).  This has created a “lollipop forest” with no ground cover, very few shrubs, and compacted and damaged soil where trees do not grow old and absorb the carbon we desperately need them to. Animals have a harder time finding food and habitat in these areas, and so move on to other areas. Their digging, excrement compost, and seed distribution services are withdrawn from these empty landscapes which are at risk from erosion and even desertification.  Of course a forest is so much more than just the trees, but unfortunately forest policy often seems blind to this. There is a pun in here somewhere…;)
Healthy soil needs oxygen and plenty of mulch cover to maintain healthy soil organisms (there are millions of bacteria in one teaspoon of soil as you probably know). Healthy forests depend on healthy soil organisms for nutrient uptake etc. and if forests become unhealthy from being abused they are more likely to dry out and become a fire risk. Factors like greater wind and sunlight penetrating through thinned forests are also a factor to consider. I urge you not to trust mainstream fire officials with clearing, at least without close oversight and written requirements. It could devastate the ecology of the land, devalue the property for the uses you are seeking, and even add to fire risk.
Some of the key requirements that we recommend you consider include:
– prohibition of motorized vehicles off existing main dirt roads
– prohibition of intensive activities in areas of critical habitat
– key guidelines of what size trees will be taken and how they will be removed (human and horses obv. have lower impact than vehicles)
– protection of living shrubs
– protection of stream courses and wetlands
– allowing habitat damaged by past activities to recover
– non-disturbance of mulch
– consideration of low-level non-intensive burning in certain areas in place of logging
– recognition that some density is critical for habitat
The truth is that with a severe wildfire, it won’t matter much to nearby dwellings what is done on the land as most home ignitions are caused by flying embers, which can come from miles away. Efforts and resources should be directed toward home hardening and direct defensible space around dwellings. 
We also have land that has not been “maintained” for years. We have been busy collecting dead brush, removing some small trees, etc. but overall we are respecting the land, not allowing motorized vehicles, and treating the land as a garden, with every plant and animal respected to the extent we are able to.
I am not an expert, but I urge you to speak to people with different perspectives on management before committing to a course of action. We can help provide connections to examples of landscapes which have successfully enriched the ecology and reduced fire risk, ie. the Yurok Tribe in the Klamath Mountains who have been using fire to restore habitats and landscapes while reducing fire risk. It is not a matter of sacrificing the ecology to protect from fire— it is about taking care of the ecology so fire won’t be as much of a threat. As I said to the city of Portola when I saw the destruction at the riverwalk, “the forest is not the enemy”— instead she is our friend, to help absorb our excess carbon, store moisture in dry seasons, and provide shade, food and habitat for all of us. But not if we continually attack her with heavy equipment.
I like the idea of the land becoming an outdoor eco-preserve and learning opportunity for the Eastern Sierra. The Audubon Canyon Ranch near Stinson Beach provides a possible model. They have a bunch of outdoor picnic tables and often host school groups, and even overnight bunkhouses to provide a longer stay including to low income inner city youth who often have their first taste of a pristine environment at the ranch. I was an outdoor guide here for a couple of years when I lived in Bolinas.
Chad Hanson’s book Smokescreen also provides an alternate perspective from mainstream forest thinning practice. He gives a good presentation based on his book here:
I am personally still mulling over this issue, and reviewing the evidence and different perspectives from people who think thinning is always bad, to those who think we should mow down miles of forest around a community to keep it safe. A lot of the problems come from having machines in the forest instead of human hands, and an over literal interpretation of “ladder fuels” to include everything growing on the ground! If you respect the plants and animals on the land, as you have been doing with the clean up efforts etc. (but as few previous owners have) I don’t think you’ll go wrong.
I think you and Ray probably have very good instincts about this, and you have probably spent a good amount of time on this land and got to know the changes over the seasons. I urge you to listen to your instincts and not defer to the “experts” who have caused so much heavy equipment damage elsewhere, without really addressing the fire issue. It would be a real shame if this approach was copied on your land, and you (and others) had regrets. Your land could be a model and example for others to follow about how to reduce fire risk and enhance the ecology, but this will certainly not happen on its own if you allow public agencies to take the lead.
I welcome a dialogue about this and offer myself as a resource – I have experience in ecology, organizing, outdoor / bicycle education, fundraising and transport / trail planning. Could you please add me to your list so I can keep up to date with what is going on with your project? 
Thanks so much for your time and consideration.


Some of the heavy vehicle damage done to the Riverwalk

Disc Golf Course & Fire Clearing Bring Dramatic Changes (and Opportunities) to Portola Riverwalk Park

Portola Riverwalk Disc Golf Course takes shape.

If you haven’t been down to the Portola Riverwalk park recently, there have been some big changes. Regulars we spoke to on the Riverwalk were surprised at the scale of the clearing —  done during fire season as the Dixie fire threatened.  However, in general people seem excited to see a disc golf course at the Riverwalk and there is new interest in an organized ecological restoration effort in the park.

Heavy Equipment use has led to erosion issues at Portola Riverwalk Park next to the Feather River –  much of this has since been covered with mulch but there is a lot more work to do to replant, stabilize the soil, and mark out areas to be protected .

Have you been down to the Riverwalk recently? What are your thoughts? How do you see the future of this large public park and open space in the middle of Portola? Trails? Garden allotments? Butterfly gardens? New bike/ ped bridge across the Feather River? There is a lot of potential.

Re-planting efforts near the start of the course

We are hopeful the city of Portola will schedule a public meeting to discuss restoration efforts, a shared vision for the future of the park and accommodate multiple uses of the land. To volunteer with habitat restoration and trail building in the park, contact Tim Rhode.

Where a natural stream crosses the first hole of the new disc golf course at Riverwalk Park, during the heaviest deluge of the recent Oct. 24th storm. We hope the city will restore this area during the upcoming trail resurfacing by putting in a bridge or boardwalk in this area. As you can see it is needed.