By John Bowman
Siskiyou Daily News
Yreka, Calif. — The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday may consider an ordinance “to prohibit the presents [sic] of wolves in Siskiyou County,” according to the Board of Supervisors agenda worksheet.
The ordinance was crafted by Leo Bergeron, president of the Siskiyou County Water Users Association and grange master for the Siskiyou Pomona Grange.
According to one source, there has already been a request by at least one supervisor to pull the item from the board’s agenda for further study before considering it.
The proposed ordinance states, “human interactions with problem wolves have increased within the last 12 months, and this increase may result in ‘imminent danger to individuals, families and the lives of others’ within the county.”
Bergeron could not cite specific cases of recent interactions with problem wolves in California.
If wolves are found in Siskiyou County, the proposed ordinance says they “shall be deemed to be trespassing and the Agencies and/or Non Governmental Organizations responsible for the reintroduction of wolves in the United States will be notified to remove said wolf or wolves. Cost of removal to be borne by Agencies or NGO’s. Failure to effect removal of said wolf or wolves will result in the wolf or wolves to be destroyed.”
The provision for county authority to destroy a wild wolf found in Siskiyou County is likely to face serious legal challenge.
According to a report by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), any gray wolves present in the state of California are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The report states, “California is outside the Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population Segment (NRM DPS) and any wolves dispersing into California will be considered endangered pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (USFWS 2009a).”
Wolves inside the NRM DPS have a separate status because of higher population numbers in areas of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon, which make up that population segment.
When asked how his proposed ordinance would align with ESA protections, Bergeron said, “that has no bearing in the state of California.”
He believes that there are no laws in California that govern management of wolves and therefore this ordinance will set presidence for the establishment of future wolf management laws in the state.
CDFG?Senior Policy Advisor Mark Stopher told the Daily News, “Even if the county adopts the ordinance, it wouldn’t trump state or federal law.”
He said the county can ask an agency to remove a wolf but it cannot demand it.
“Wildlife belong to the people of the state of California, not to any one county. It’s what we call a public trust resource like air and water,” Stopher said.
He said, hypothetically, if the county adopts the ordinance and follows through with its enforcement by killing a wolf, it would be a violation of the ESA and those responsible for the death of the wolf could possibly face “substantial fines and maybe even jail time.”
However, he said the decision to enforce such penalties would be up to federal authorities and in certain cases they may choose not to do so.
Stopher also pointed out that there is “tremendous public interest” in the welfare of wolves in California.
He said he has been interviewed by news outlets from across the nation and the world regarding the issue of wolves in California.
“I wonder about the wisdom of someone taking such an action at this time for an animal that isn’t causing trouble right now,” Stopher said, adding that it could be at least 10 years before there is a reproducing pack of wolves in the state.
He said the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors may pass the ordinance as a “policy statement,” but it would have no authority to enforce it.
As for CDFG intervening in the process, Stopher said, “We’ve got enough to deal with without picking fights with a county over something like this.”
Siskiyou County Counsel Tom Guarino said of the proposal, “With any endangered species, you’d have to measure local ordinances against any state or federal laws already in place.”
He added that he won’t spend county resources on investigating the legality of such an ordinance unless directed to do so by the Board of Supervisors.
For Bergeron, this ordinance is an effort to get ahead of what he sees as an impending threat to the livelihood and safety of the community.
“I’m a cattleman and if I caught a wolf trying to kill one of my stock, I’d kill it,” Bergeron said. “You mean to tell me that makes me a criminal? Wolves have no business in a society with this many humans.”
When asked why he feels this ordinance is necessary with only one wolf present in California, Bergeron said, based on patterns from other states, he believes that it is only a matter of time until wolves begin reproducing and causing problems in the state.
According to Amaroq Weiss with the California Wolf Center, “In other areas where wolves have returned, there has been a sharing of knowledge, methods and cooperative efforts among agencies, ranchers and non-governmental organizations to enable wolves and humans to successfully coexist on the land.”
She said residents of Siskiyou County should take the opportunity this coming week to learn about these efforts from an expert on the subject, noting the May 10 presentation by wolf management expert Carter Niemeyer at the Miner’s Inn in Yreka.
As a state and federally employed wolf specialist, Niemyer has helped develop wolf management plans for several western states. His presentation will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Miner’s Inn Convention Center at 122 East Miner Street in Yreka. Niemeyer will also be answering specific questions from audience members after the presentation.