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County shoots down Austin’s no-kill request

Wednesday, November 11, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday rejected a request from the city of Austin’s Animal Advisory Commission to enter into a partnership that would develop a no-kill management strategy for wild animals, including coyotes.

David Lundstedt and Craig Nazor of the Animal Advisory Commission showed up to the court’s weekly meeting to petition the commissioners to reject a contract with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. County staff members had recommended the contract’s ratification, which would “pay for a full-time biologist to respond to complaints about damage caused by wildlife and to remedy the problem by public education, wildlife behavior modification and, if necessary, removal,” according to county documents.

In this case, the means of “removal” include lethal procedures, a sticking point for Lundstedt and Nazor, who urged the commissioners to take a pass on the contract and instead team up with the city to develop an “in-house wildlife management plan, not just for coyotes, but for deer, peacocks, everything,” according to Nazor.

Mike Bodenchuk of Texas Wildlife Services told the commissioners that his agency handled 900 calls about coyotes in Fiscal Year 2015. He added, “We removed 23 coyotes total out of a minimum population of about 500 coyotes.”

Nazor countered that those 900 calls don’t necessarily represent individual encounters.

“I’m on a neighborhood group,” Nazor explained. “And when our neighborhood gets riled up about something, what they do is everybody calls 3-1-1. And if a lot of calls come into 3-1-1, it flags it. Those calls are not vetted. But that’s how people nowadays get a response out of the system for that.“

Nazor claimed that there hasn’t been a single coyote-related death in the entire history of the state of Texas and that the handful of encounters that have resulted in bites stemmed from a lack of education – education that could be spread by a wildlife control officer who isn’t busy killing coyotes.

After listening to Nazor’s and Lundstedt’s testimony, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt expressed her concern that delaying the contract before the court could create a dangerous gap in wildlife management while both the city and county work out the terms of the proposed partnership.

Tawny Hammond, chief animal services officer with the city of Austin, assured Eckhardt that the resources existed to fill the gap in the meantime. Her confidence failed to impress Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who followed her remarks with a terse statement that he would support the staff recommendation to approve the contract.

At that point, Eckhardt adjourned the meeting for lunch. The discussion resumed an hour later, this time with testimony from members of the public, several of whom supported lethal means of wildlife control.

Carolyn Abernathy said that the current policy, which she noted also includes outreach and education, “effectively modified” a significant coyote problem haunting her neighborhood 11 years ago.

“And I think without this contract … people will take matters in their own hands,” said Abernathy. “They will set their own traps, they will leave out poison. And that’s when we are going to have an inhumane harm to wildlife, to other pets, to children, to the coyotes themselves.”

With several legal questions lingering over the decision, Eckhardt ended the public discussion and opted to lump the item into executive session scheduled at the end of the day’s meeting.

After re-emerging from that closed-door consultation with attorneys, the commissioners were finally ready to take a vote on the item. Daugherty motioned for the contract’s approval, and Commissioner Ron Davis rewarded him with a second.

Commissioner Brigid Shea offered a substitute motion to delay action for 30 days, but that idea received no support. The year-long contract worth $52,682 was approved on a 3-0 vote, with Shea abstaining and Commissioner Margaret Gómez off the dais.

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