Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care battles today for facility
The El Dorado County Planning Commission may decide Thursday whether or not Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care must return to “the bare essentials” in housing animals on its quarter-acre parcel on Cherry Hills Circle.
Tom and Cheryl Millham, operators of the South Shore wildlife rehabilitation center, hold a permit to temporarily house small animals and birds, according to the county. But they don’t have a permit for larger animals such as bears or bobcats.
“It all comes down to the definition of a small animal,” county Planner Roger Evans said. “Certainly, bear cubs are small at some point in their lives, but they do grow up.”
In some respects, Cheryl Millham agreed.
“We define them as babies. My own dog weighs more than some of these cubs,” she said.
The county contends the Millhams’ original application, submitted nearly 20 years ago, states the facility will be used for “orphaned and injured birds and small animals until ready to be released back to the wild or transferred to another wildlife organization or facility.”
A county building inspector on nearby assignment almost two years ago discovered the 935-square-foot bear enclosure being built on the Millhams’ property. An inspector came out to inform the Millhams two weeks later that a permit is required to build a bear cub cage.
The enclosure was completed, but the last bear left the compound in early January.
The county report also takes issue with the bear enclosure’s proximity to one of the Millhams’ neighbors. The regulation requires a 15-foot buffer from the property line, but the county measured 5.
She believes the quandary stems from a dispute in the neighborhood, which Millham said she didn’t think would become so populated in the last 20 years.
“I never thought somebody would have built up on this side,” she said, referring to the home closest to the enclosure.
“It’s problematic considering they’re in a residential zone,” Evans said.
But Millham said there’s never been an incident in which a volunteer has been hurt or the animals have caused a disturbance.
“How long do we have to prove ourselves?” she asked. “They should be more worried there are three bears in the neighborhood running wild, going through the trash.”
Evans acknowledged the nonprofit organization does “outstanding work, but that doesn’t negate the need for a permit.”
“I’m not against what they’re doing,” he said.
Evans outlined a few alternatives the planning commission will consider in a meeting expected to pack the Community Development room. The county has received at least 120 written responses to the agenda item.
The commission could put a stop to rehabilitation of larger animals or require the Millhams “clarify exactly what animals will be housed” in an application filed with the planning department, Evans said.
Also, if the county finds the enclosure’s location breaks the code, the Millhams may appeal their case to the Board of Supervisors.
Millham wants the county to allow the facility to operate as it has been for years.
“I just want them to let us continue to keep going because I can’t kill an animal because of bureaucratic red tape. I’ll just get out of this business,” she said.