September 16, 2014
Final Reports
San Mateo Courts - Civil Grand Jury

2002-2003 Report:

Wildlife Management

Summary | Background | Findings | Conclusions | Recommendations| Responses

Summary:

San Mateo County residents are facing increased wildlife problems, including property damage and health issues, that need to be addressed on a county-wide level. The Board of Supervisors needs to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to assist residents through public education and information, and provide animal control services beyond what is currently available. The plan should provide for the pooling of information among departments and special districts to monitor animal population and health risks.

Issue: Does San Mateo County effectively manage wildlife, specifically deer, raccoons, skunks, and opossums?

Background:

In response to anecdotal information and homeowner groups' complaints regarding raccoon damage and related health concerns, the Grand Jury investigated wildlife issues in the county and how they are being addressed by public agencies. Wildlife specifically covered by this investigation are deer, raccoons, skunks, and opossums.

In the early 1990s, for budgetary reasons San Mateo County dropped its agreement with state and federal agencies that had been providing wildlife and animal control services. Since that time, the County has performed limited services using in-county resources.

Public information and assistance regarding a wildlife nuisance is available from several sources. Animal control services are contracted out to the Peninsula Humane Society (PHS). The contract is overseen by the County Environmental Services Department. The contracted services are limited to picking up dead and injured animals. Residents must pay PHS to have dead animals removed from private property in most jurisdictions. PHS provides information about deterring nuisance wildlife to people who request assistance.

A vector is an organism that transmits a disease. The Mosquito Abatement District has responsibility for vector born diseases including Lyme disease and raccoon roundworm within its jurisdiction. Its jurisdiction is not county-wide. The District recently started gathering information about the raccoon population and the incidence of raccoon roundworm. It has a pamphlet available describing the disease and how to cope with raccoon latrines. The District has a limited public information and education plan.

The County Environmental Health Department offers some assistance to residents who are having problems with nuisance wildlife, such as raccoons, inside their homes. The department gives technical advice regarding how to deter animal damage to homes and will refer people to trappers for additional assistance.

Findings:

Residents have difficulty obtaining information and assistance when they seek help with wildlife problems, particularly if they need assistance beyond the information available from PHS about deterring wildlife.

In keeping with their mission, PHS web site states, "The first and best approach to dealing with wildlife in urban environments is to practice tolerance -- understanding and acceptance of the natural patterns of animal life and respect and appreciation for wild animals." The web page provides information about deterring wildlife. Their literature does not address health issues or give information about removing animals from homes or other animal control options including how to deal with individual animals that have learned destructive behavior and are not easily deterred.

County residents who use the phone book to access County services find that the only listing is Animal Control. People calling the Animal Control phone number for wildlife services are told that Animal Control officers will not remove nuisance wildlife from property unless the animal is sick, injured or, if it has come into contact with a person or companion animal. People who call Animal Control for other information are directed to PHS.

Wildlife populations are growing in urban areas of the County because of the increase in favorable habitat, especially near the bay lagoons. PHS officials report that many people intentionally feed wildlife while others inadvertently make food available by not securing their pet food or garbage. Entire neighborhoods can be impacted by the actions of a few people.

One homeowner association has started addressing problems with wildlife and has done a survey to determine the extent of raccoon damage in the community. Survey respondents reported $46,000 damage to structures and landscaping.
One commercial trapper reported that his industry has seen an increase in nuisance wildlife complaints including eight raccoon attacks on people and domestic animals within the last year. In some counties, trappers are required to report the numbers of animals they trap, raccoon attacks, and related information to county agencies with oversight responsibilities. No such reporting is required in San Mateo County.

Environmental Health and the Mosquito Abatement District monitor wildlife related health issues in the County. The incidence of rabies and Lyme disease is small. The Mosquito Abatement District has begun monitoring raccoon roundworm, which infects the majority of raccoons in this area. Although only a few human cases of raccoon roundworm have been documented in California, the Mosquito Abatement District reports that accurate diagnosis is difficult and the potential for infection may be high. The disease itself is a serious health hazard. Children are especially susceptible since the infection is spread to humans by ingesting or inhaling roundworm eggs. Several children in California have been stricken. There is no known cure.

Other counties address wildlife issues in different ways. Some counties already have or are drafting wildlife control policies. Thirty-eight counties in California contract with the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Service to assist with wildlife management and damage control as well as the protection of endangered species. The federal government contributes 27% toward the cost of providing the contracted services. Most counties have two assigned wildlife specialists which costs each county approximately $100,000 per year for personnel and overhead.

Conclusions:

If one neighbor feeds raccoons, another neighbor may end up with a raccoon infestation or latrine. Given the limited and possible declining funds available to the County, individuals in neighborhoods working in concert need to be a major component in finding and implementing solutions. There is no "quick fix."

The County has no comprehensive plan in place to educate the public about nuisance wildlife abatement or disease hazards. Various county departments have limited information available, but there is no coordinated effort to increase public awareness.

The County has no systematic method of tracking urban wildlife populations or the damage they cause and the health risks they present. The County has no effective system of sharing information or of planning activities between the county agencies involved.

No assistance is available to homeowners who are unsuccessful in deterring destructive wildlife or who are physically or financially limited and unable to handle wildlife invasions of their homes or the damage caused by such invasions.

Recommendations:

1. The Board of Supervisors should immediately initiate a public education effort to:

a. Explain the public health, safety, and economic loss effects of raccoon infestations within urban areas.

b.Provide suggestions for preventing wildlife problems on residential properties.

c. Make available lists of resources for managing nuisance wildlife problems, including animal control options and the names of trappers.

d. Instruct residents on what to do in the event of wildlife confrontations and attacks.

2. The Board of Supervisors should renew the relationship with the USDA to provide animal control services including monitoring and trapping, unless it finds a more cost effective approach.

Response
© 2014 Superior Court of San Mateo County