Dispute threatens wildlife facility
Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care will not be allowed to rehabilitate bears in its new bear enclosure as long as the cage goes unpermitted.
Patrick Foy, public information officer for the California Department of Fish and Game, said the agency will not renew the wildlife center’s permit to rehabilitate bear cubs until the nearly year-old bear enclosure has the proper building permits from El Dorado County.
“(Fish and Game) can’t supersede the county ordinance on the building permit and tell the county we’re going to give them these bears anyway regardless of what the county thinks,” Foy said. “We want to make sure they’re in compliance with county laws before we give them more bears.”
Wildlife Care Owner Cheryl Millham said she was unaware animal cages had to be permitted by the county in addition to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency approval she said every animal enclosure has.
“We always call TRPA and tell them what we’re going to do and we tell them how many square feet,” Millham said. “If we broke the law then we’ll pay the consequences, but I didn’t know we broke the law.”
Pam Drum, TRPA public information officer, could not confirm or deny the enclosure had TRPA approval late Tuesday.
County Principal Planner Peter Maurer said the bear enclosure is only set back from the property line 5 feet, which is not in compliance with the 15-foot setback regulation.
Maurer said the Millham’s will have to apply for permission to bypass the 15-foot regulation in order to keep the structure.
Once the application is received, the planning department will host a public hearing where neighbors can voice concerns. The planning commission will then vote on whether to allow the building to remain or whether it will have to be moved.
Millham said she is filling out the paperwork to keep the building, but she’s concerned that her backyard neighbor, John McDougall, could pit other neighbors against the wildlife facility.
Millham said she has never received a complaint in the almost 20 years she and her husband have been running the rehabilitation center, until last year.
“Our neighbor doesn’t want bears here. He built a house there last summer and now he’s trying to curtail our activity,” Millham said. “If he gets to the neighbors and convinces them these bears are dangerous he could close us down. I’m sorry we’ve been here 19 or 20 years and these houses weren’t here then, but they are now.”
McDougall said he appreciates the Millham’s work, but is not happy the almost 17-foot bear cage is so close to his fence line. He claims the bear enclosure was built after construction began on his house. However, Millham said the foundation was poured five years ago and construction began last spring.
“I’m not comfortable with the bears, but I’m angry about the building,” McDougall said. “I certainly don’t have bad feelings towards the Millhams. The county is not doing its job and essentially created a problem for them and for me. I didn’t want to create anything that’s embarrassing for them, but unfortunately this has infringed on my property rights.”
Millham said she doesn’t know how a building on her property infringed on McDougall’s property rights, however she said the issue has really worried her.
“It makes me sick to my stomach that we work so hard to make a place to care for the local wildlife and somebody can go and take it away knowing we’re here to begin with,” Millham said. “But I’m going to continue to take care of animals. I won’t kill them. If the county doesn’t like it then I guess I’ll have to close down but I’m not going to kill animals.”
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