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Injured wildlife still have a home

Jeff Munson/Tahoe TribunePreparing to board a chartered bus to Placerville in support of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care are, from left, Anita Chittenden, with Tom Millham, secretary-treasurer of the organization, embracing Catherine Whelan. The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to a special-use permit amendment that will allow the nonprofit organization to maintain operations.
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PLACERVILLE — It was a building code versus nature and nature won.

Applause electrified the room Tuesday after the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve an amended special-use permit for Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care.

The permit allows the facility to operate all of its 11 enclosures to rehabilitate bear cubs, fawns, bobcats, birds and other wildlife under 100 pounds or up to 1 year of age.



But the 5-0 decision came with two conditions: no enclosures can be added to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, which sits in a Meyers-area back yard, and the organization must work to find a new location.

The city of South Lake Tahoe is willing to find a place for the wildlife rehabilitation center said Tom Davis, a city councilman who spoke at the hearing.




Davis and David Solaro, chairman of the board of supervisors who represents South Shore, said they think the organization could be relocated near Lake Tahoe Airport. The city recently bought 16 acres near the airport, land also being considered for a county animal shelter.

If the board had refused the permit, Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care would have been forced to remove more than half of its enclosures. Seven of the 11 enclosures were not included in a special-use permit the county issued to the organization in the late 1980s.

Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care takes in orphaned or injured animals and birds and keeps them until they are healthy enough to be returned to the wild. Its facilities are in the back yard of Tom and Cheryl Millham, who live off Elks Club Drive on Cherry Hill Circle. The couple started the organization 25 years ago.

“I’m relieved. And excited for wildlife at Tahoe. They will be able to get the care they need,” Cheryl Millham said. “The stress is gone.”

“I’m very happy,” said Tom Millham, wiping tears from his cheeks as he stood in the middle of a crowd of South Shore residents, some of whom traveled in a bus to attend the hearing.

“I think the petitions, about 3,800 signatures, made a major statement,” Tom Millham said. “It shows overwhelming support from the community and the board saw that.”

During a two-hour hearing, residents took turns testifying for and against the amended permit for the organization. In the testimony, Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care board members said they have, for the last five years, been trying to find land suitable to relocate the organization.

“This sounds like it’s perfect,” said Tom Millham, of the city land near the airport. “It depends on the funding and when the city takes control. Obviously we’d like that to begin as soon as possible so we can start moving things over.”

The validity of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care’s original permit became an issue three years ago when John McDougall built a home behind the Millhams’.

McDougall said that after he bought the property Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care built a 17-foot tall cinder block bear pen near the edge of their property.

McDougall, a professional home builder, described the pen as “ugly and disgusting,” saying the pen being next to his property will make it more difficult to sell. McDougall said he plans to put the house on the market in the spring.

“I want to ponder it for a little bit,” said McDougall, after the board’s vote. “Maybe in the future there will be steps to take, but I have to take time to think about it … I feel like I’ve been misinterpreted since Day 1.”

He said the misinterpretation lies in the belief that he just wants to shut down the wildlife facility. McDougall denies that accusation. He says in filing a complaint with the county he aimed to make the Millhams adhere to the conditions of their original permit, which does not allow for the bear pen or bears to be kept on the property.

Tommy Varzos, a South Lake Tahoe resident who drove to Placerville to attend the hearing, agreed with McDougall and was upset by the board’s vote.

“I’m appalled,” Varzos said. “I wasn’t allowed to build a shed. They made me jump through hoops … and something like this has gone unopposed for years. Certainly I believe in my rights over animals’.”

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com or at (530) 542-8045.


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