(US CA) Specialists on wild animal watch August 03, 2005 6:24 AM
Published: August 2, 2005
By CHRIS NICHOLS
Bears, raccoons, coyotes, mountain lions and other creatures caused more than $100,000 in damages to homes, ranches and livestock in Calaveras County last year.
In an effort to limit that damage, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors yesterday renewed an annual contract for $65,000 to pay for two federal wildlife specialists to track, trap and, if necessary, kill the animal culprits.
The specialists are trained biologists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has provided wildlife services — like hunting predatory and pesky animals — for decades in Calaveras County and statewide.
As in past years, one of the specialists will work full-time in the county and the other will split time between Calaveras and Amador counties.
"As long as there are healthy populations of wildlife, and as long as there are people, we're going to continue to have some conflicts that need to be resolved," said Larry Hawkins, a USDA spokesman.
Wildlife specialists responded to more than 800 service calls in the county last year, covering more than 114,000 acres of private and public land.
They focus solely on wild animals, while local animal control officers work with domestic animals.
While people are likely to encounter wildlife more and more as new homes are built in rural parts of Calaveras County, one county official said it's not likely more wildlife specialists will be hired.
"The way the fiscal constraints are here at the county, I'd have to say no," said Interim Agriculture Commissioner Mary Mutz. "Not in the near future."
Mutz said her office spends at least one hour each day taking phone messages about animal damage from county residents. She said her office then contacts the USDA specialists.
She said she's had more than one call from residents who said there were bears inside their homes, usually in Arnold.
Much of the specialists' time last year was spent removing coyotes — 110 altogether — from ranches or residential property, according to a report by the USDA.
Also removed were four bears, four mountain lions, 16 opossums, 57 raccoons, 58 skunks and 123 other animals that were not specified.
Combined, those animals caused more than $60,000 in damage to structures and other property, $33,000 in damage in lost or injured livestock, and nearly $5,000 damage to landscaping or gardens.
Both Mutz and Hawkins said coyotes and mountain lions are to blame for most attacks on livestock, with coyotes preferring to attack sheep. But they said bears usually will cause the most property damage, either by ripping apart cars and other vehicles or entering homes.
"They'll take apart a travel trailer if they feel like it," Hawkins said.
There are numerous ways residents can prevent wildlife from coming near their homes, Hawkins added.
People should keep pet food and water inside and make sure their garbage is secured inside garbage cans, he said.
To prevent attacks on livestock, Hawkins said residents might consider a guard dog or secure fences around their property.
He added that much of the wildlife specialists' work is to help people safeguard their homes from animals.
"A lot of people really don't evaluate their homes to see what kind of an attraction it is to wildlife," he said.
[ send green star]