Partnership possible to resolve wildlife conflict at school
November 29, 2021 — In the two weeks since a mountain lion killed two goats at the high school farm in Boonville, the remaining goats have been listening to a.m. radio all night long, and scarecrows have been giving off offensive odors to deter further losses.
But the long-term solution is a high fence, ideally twelve feet tall, with a five-foot visual barrier around the bottom so predators looking for an easy meal won’t be as easily tempted.
Project Coyote, an organization dedicated to promoting coexistence between wildlife and humans and their livestock, has offered to get together volunteers to help build a more lion-proof fence at the eight-acre farm, which includes about 15 goats and a herd of sheep. The farm is at the Anderson Valley High school in Boonville, which is a populated area, but it’s also adjacent to a creek, in a corridor where similar attacks have happened in the past.
In August, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to end the county’s contract with USDA Wildlife Services, a relationship which, according to Supervisor John Haschak, had already ended. Haschak serves with Supervisor Glenn McGourty on a committee to develop a non-lethal wildlife policy for the county.
Wildlife Services offered non-lethal services as well as trapping and killing, which led to lawsuits and controversy. According to Dr. Michelle Lute, the National Carnivore Conservation Manager with Project Coyote, attempts at getting rid of carnivores have far-reaching effects.
“You see this a lot with coyotes and mountain lions,” she explained; “where you remove a resident adult, and it opens up a vacancy for a new individual to come in. That new individual may be younger, may not know how to hunt as well, so that can create increased conflict, where there was low potential for conflict in the first place. So that’s why we say the evidence suggests that removing individual carnivores can sometimes increase conflict, despite the purported purpose being to decrease conflict...and that’s why it’s been done, cyclically, for decades and decades, without reduced conflict.”
Louise Simson, the new superintendent of Anderson Valley School District, is concerned about safety. She says that during the season when goats and sheep are giving birth, students and staff could be at the farm at all hours.
“There was a similar attack, about five years ago, and the animal was trapped,” she said. “And we didn’t have any further incidents. But this is a safety issue, and that’s why I’m involved. I know it’s a very political issue, and there’s many points of view, but my job as a superintendent is to keep the kids safe and that’s why I’m advocating for some help...to me, if there’s an animal with an attack behavior — and this is not an isolated incident, there have been numerous incidents all up and down this creek; that the authorities need to take this into account and maybe look at this as a special situation, because it is on school grounds. However, if that is not to be, I have lots of folks who have given me a lot of advice and no resources. My school district has a $400,000 deficit in operating expenses next year. I’m happy to implement solutions, but those solutions need to come with funding.”
Lute says that “if the school is interested in collaborating, we’d happily hold a workshop, virtually or in person, if possible, to talk about additional resources and protections at the school. And we can also help find volunteers if there’s a volunteer workday possible where some enhanced fencing could occur or the pasture and enclosure could be moved away from the creek. As I understand it, the goats are currently grazing pretty close to a creek, which is a natural corridor for all kinds of wildlife, including mountain lions, that like a lot of cover and want to stay away from humans.”
Ten days before the November 15 attack, the county put out a request for proposals from potential contractors to provide some non-lethal services. Haschak said, “that’s mostly for those animal encounters of the small type, like the skunk under the house or the raccoon in the dog pen. What we’re looking at, as far as a model, is that the person would go out and visit the site and then provide some expert opinions, but if the person really needs some infrastructure done, like a one-way door put in or some mesh or whatever kind of construction work, that would be outside the county’s purview. So that would be an opportunity for the person to make some more money, outside the contract with the county.”
Haschak also suggested saving money by using recycled materials to build a sturdier fence and assembling a lending library of deterrence items so every farmer doesn’t have to stockpile equipment. Simson, the superintendent, says she’s open to partnerships, but when it comes to making improvements on school property, like building a bigger barn, there is a long permitting process that involves multiple agencies. But she thinks fencing is a little more doable.
“I think that the fencing we could do relatively easily,” she reflected. “But that’s a huge expense. So if somebody came to me today and said, Louise, here’s a check for $100,000, put up that fence, I’d be on that in a minute. I’d look to my local partners in the valley to help us with that. Barns and things like that, that’s a different situation.”
Asked if it would be feasible to have volunteers build the fence, she said, “If we had a structured partner who had an idea about how to systematically implement an improvement, we would work through that.”