SANTA BARBARA COUNTY GRAND JURY 1997-1998

FINAL REPORT

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT

 

Released May 20, 1998

BACKGROUND

 

This past year there has been an increase in news articles and letters to the Editor complaining about problems within the urban area involving wild animals. Problems particularly involve small mammals – such as skunks, opossums, raccoons and coyotes. One public official told us that wildlife management in the South Coast urban area is "out of control." That official told us the problems include:

 

 

Wildlife management, even in urban areas, is regulated by the California Fish and Game Code, and companion regulations adopted by the state in the California Code of Regulations, administrated by the Department of Fish and Game (DFG). Within that body of law, local management is carried out by three separate agencies which are the County Agricultural Commissioner [Exhibit B], the County Environmental Health Services Division, and the City of Santa Barbara Animal Control Division. They were investigated separately.

 

Unfortunately, we found that both the County Environmental Health Services Division Program (Co. EHS) and the City of Santa Barbara Animal Control Division Program (City ACD) to manage wildlife violate California law – and both programs should immediately be modified.

 

WHAT IS THE LAW?

 

 

The bottom line: a wild, trapped animal must either be euthanized or released from the trap within a three mile radius of the trapping site. To do otherwise, simply moves the

problem to someplace else, creates the opportunity to spread disease, disrupts the habitat of other wild animals, and violates California law. The Department of Fish and Game

noted that random relocations of wild animals can do significant damage to existing wild animals in the area of relocation. Increased competition for food, space, and possible disease transmission are examples of unwanted results that can be expected from poor relocations [Exhibit F].

 

METHOD AND INVESTIGATION

 

The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury decided to investigate wildlife management in the South Coast urban areas after hearing citizens’ complaints in letters to the Editor and news articles in the newspaper. Our investigation included the review of individual wildlife management programs and agreements between the County Agricultural Commissioner and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Santa Barbara County Animal Control program supervised by Co. EHS, the City ACD program, and a private non-profit wildlife rehabilitation organization. The Grand Jury limited its review to the control of small mammals; especially opossums, skunks, raccoons, and coyotes in the South Coast urban area.

 

The Grand Jury interviewed the:

 

 

The Grand Jury also exchanged numerous correspondence with the these agencies.

 

The Grand Jury reviewed the public records and the policies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Santa Barbara City and County animal control departments, and any agreements between the different agencies for wild animal control. Also the laws and regulations of the State of California Fish and Game, California Administrative Codes, Santa Barbara County Regulations, and the City of Santa Barbara Municipal Code were examined. Public information reviewed included the U.S. Department of Agricultural Animal Reports, the Santa Barbara County Animal Control records and inter-departmental memos, and the City of Santa Barbara B.U.S.T.E.D. program ‘return to wild’ records. The permit and State of California Non-profit Corporation Statement filing for a private wildlife rehabilitation organization were also reviewed. Members of the Grand Jury attended a neighborhood meeting in the Santa Barbara county area in which wildlife nuisance problems were addressed by the USDA supervisor and federal trappers.

 

AREA OF INVESTIGATION

 

The State of California Fish and Game Codes states that the taking of non-game mammals (such as opossums, skunks and coyotes) is permitted with no limits and no season. The trapping of raccoons, a fur bearing mammal, is also permitted but only in season unless the animal is considered a nuisance. If a opossum or raccoon is to be

released from a trap, they must be released within a three mile radius of the trapping site [Exhibit E]. Skunks must be destroyed due to the threat of rabies. In accordance with USDA policy and California law, coyotes are destroyed after trapping.

 

The three separate departments investigated are as follows:

 

COUNTY AGRICULTURAL COMMISSIONER’S PROGRAM

 

The Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner’s policy is to first attempt to educate the public when a wildlife nuisance complaint comes into their office. They provide literature and advice as to how to protect property and discourage the wild animals which are causing the problem. If this advice does not satisfactorily address the problem, the next step is to place the complaint on a list to be given to the federal trapper.

 

The trapper will then try to educate the complainant again with further information and advice on how to co-exist with the wild animals. The final step is for the trapper to get the property owner, usually the complainant, to enter into an agreement for trapping [Exhibit G]. Trapping may not occur for some time as manpower and equipment are limited.

 

Each year, the program administered by the County Agricultural Commissioner removes about 200 to 300 coyotes, and about 600 other small animals, from lands throughout the county [Exhibit A]. These animals are euthanized. The Commissioner’s program complies with the law.

 

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

 

FINDING 1. The trapping of wild animals by the County Agricultural Commissioner complies with the State Fish and Game requirements. It is, however, a very slow process. This delay, due to a shortage of staff, contributes to the escalation of the problem.

 

RECOMMENDATION 1 a: Continue efforts to bring various interest groups together, including the City and County of Santa Barbara, California Department of Fish & Game

and interested citizens, to develop a legal wild animal management plan for the urban area on the South Coast of Santa Barbara County.

 

RECOMMENDATION 1 b: Initiate additional educational efforts with the participation of the City and County of Santa Barbara, California Department of Fish & Game, and interested citizens, to encourage alternatives to the trapping and to discourage the illegal relocating of trapped animals by both departments and citizens.

 

AFFECTED AGENCIES:

County Agricultural Commissioner

Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors

 

 

 

SANTA BARBARA CITY ANIMAL CONTROL DEPARTMENT’S PROGRAM

 

 

The City ACD withdrew from the Agricultural Commissioner’s program on verbal notice approximately ten years ago. The exact date is not documented anywhere, as far as the Grand Jury can surmise. "There is no written agreement between the two agencies (Santa Barbara County Animal Health & Regulation and the City of Santa Barbara ) regarding wildlife"[Exhibit C].

 

Initially the City of Santa Barbara trapped these nuisance animals themselves but stopped doing so a few years ago. They "discourage trapping of wildlife but will respond to animals confined in traps due to public safety. When we relocate the trapped animal it is within a two to three mile radius of the impound location. The exact relocation site is not documented"[Exhibit H]. Between 1992 and 1997, the City of Santa Barbara relocated approximately 3,700 wild animals.

 

The City ACD does not keep track of the release sites. However, one public official told us of two first hand observations of a City release of a ‘truck load’ of opossums and raccoons along San Antonio Road above Trucker’s Grove County Park in Goleta – well outside the city limits.

 

Lacking any data on the release sites of more than three thousand wild animals during the last five years, and having two first hand observations of a city release in Goleta, it appears that the City ACD program probably violates California law.

 

 

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

 

FINDING 2 The City ACD does not cooperate with or participate in the County wildlife management program. The City ACD relocates on average over 600 animals a

year. This number does not reflect the animals that are relocated by private citizens, organizations, or pest control individuals.

 

 

RECOMMENDATION 2 a: The City ACD should immediately discontinue the practice of "relocating" wild animals trapped by private citizens.

 

RECOMMENDATION 2 b: As an alternative, either:

 

AFFECTED AGENCIES

 

Santa Barbara City Animal Control Department

Santa Barbara City Council

 

 

COUNTY ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH SERVICES’ PROGRAM

 

When the Grand Jury started its investigation, the Santa Barbara County Shelter was accepting healthy wild animals and holding them for a group of individuals. This group of individuals would pick up these animals daily even after the shelter closed since they had keys to the shelter. These animals were taken by these people in order for the animals to be released elsewhere without recording the location. This practice was referred to as the "back door policy" to the Grand Jury.

 

The Grand Jury looked into this practice and discovered that it was being done with full knowledge of the officials who are in charge of directing the management of the shelter.

 

Shortly after these officials learned of the Grand Jury’s knowledge of the "back door policy," new policies were initiated. These new procedures were changed quickly due to pressure by the individuals who were participating in the "back door" program.

 

On November 20, 1997, a Shelter memorandum [Exhibit I] was issued indicating that small wild animals brought to the Shelter will be euthanized. That policy conforms to State requirements.

 

Contrary to these requirements, the Director of the County’s Environmental Health Services Division issued two memorandums in November 1997. Copies of these documents are attached as Exhibits J and K.

 

These memos directed the staff at the Santa Barbara Animal Shelter to release wild animals to private citizens – citizens who do not have the authority to receive, transport, and release wild animals. We learned that this "back door" program violates California law.

 

Fortunately, at least for the present, this violation has been resolved by Shelter Staff. In a memorandum dated March 23, 1998, the Director stated that, "In keeping with Fish and Games’ policy [Exhibit L], any nuisance wildlife coming into the animal shelters will be humanely destroyed." [Exhibit M].

 

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

 

FINDING 3 The Santa Barbara County Animal Control wildlife management practices are inconsistent. They are repeatedly changed at the whim of Co. EHS management. The Fish and Game Code requires that all healthy wildlife trapped and turned over to the County must be euthanized. The relocation of these animals are not to be done without a permit from the DFG. At the present time, no organization is permitted to do so within the county.

 

RECOMMENDATION 3 a The November 21, 1997 and November 24, 1997 memoranda [Exhibits J and K] which direct animal shelter staff to illegally turn healthy animals over to a wildlife rehab group for undocumented release to unknown sites should be permanently rescinded.

 

RECOMMENDATION 3 b Immediately implement policies for the management of healthy wild animals (those not requiring rehab services) which comply with Department of Fish & Game codes and Title 14 of the California Code of Regulations.

 

RECOMMENDATION 3 c All volunteer groups and private citizens that have participated in the illegal practice known as the "back door" policy for wild animal relocations at the animal shelter should be notified that the practice has been discontinued permanently.

 

AFFECTED AGENCIES

County Environmental Health Services

Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors

 

 

COMMENDATION

 

During the past year, members of this Grand Jury have interviewed many public officials from throughout the county. With few exceptions, these individuals have been well informed and very professional. But the County Agricultural Commissioner set a standard for cooperation that is hard to match.

 

He was not only cooperative, he clearly understands the obligations of administering a management program which ultimately includes wild animal euthanasia. And he appears to have the skills necessary to open up communication – and cooperation - in dealing with this emotional issue.

 

Affected Agency

 

We want to advise you that California Penal Code Section 933.05 requires that responses to Grand Jury Findings and Recommendations must be made in writing to the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court and the Grand Jury Foreperson within 90 days (Governing bodies) or 60 days (Department heads) of the issuance of the report

 

Therefore the Grand Jury requires that you respond to each of the Findings and Recommendations that applies to your agency.

 

Please send your response to:

Honorable Judge Frank J. Oachoa

Presiding Judge, Santa Barbara County Superior Court

1100 Anacapa Street

Santa Barbara, CA. 93121

and

Grand Jury Foreperson at the same address.

 

Responses to the Grand Jury should be submitted on a 3 ½ inch computer disk (preferably in Word) along with the printed response.

 

ALL EXHIBITS ARE IN THE 1997-1998 PUBLISHED FINAL REPORT