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Wildlife Care neighbor responds

The time has come for me to respond to some recent news articles regarding the revocation of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care bear permit and their new bear structure.

In 1997 I purchased a lot and a building allocation directly behind the Millham’s residence and at that time I obtained a copy of the El Dorado County Special Use Permit that governs Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care’s operation in a neighborhood zoned for single family residences. At that time I was comfortable with the provisions of the permit that state they can have birds and small animals.

Shortly after I was issued a building permit, Tom Millham contacted me in regard to purchase of my lot and indicated it was very important to their future plans. After some thought I offered to sell the land for $21,000, which barely covered the costs for purchase of the property, escrow, cost of plans and other fees. After some time Tom stated his board would not approve funds for the purchase. I decided to pull the permit off the lot (at cost to me) to see if in time their circumstances would change. The next year I put the lot back in line for a permit, waited another year and finally received a subsequent permit and decided to build. Last summer, during a routine inspection of my new home, the building inspector noticed the new structure just beginning to emerge over the fence line and pointed it out to me. He indicated it was not permitted, that he had receive other inquiries about it, and would investigate it. During the following weeks the approximately 17-foot-high structure was completed.



This structure was obviously built in violation of the county’s setback requirements and without county building and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency permits. Further, any expansion of the Wildlife Care operation requires an additional public hearing to provide neighbors with an opportunity to speak on any changes that might affect them.

Various newspaper reports have indicated Mrs. Millham has characterized the new bear enclosure as a cage. I would disagree. A large cinder block building with barred windows is a structure under any applicable codes, and represents a significant eyesore for me at any time I look out my dining room window or attempt to relax on my back deck.




The Millhams have stated they have worked closely with the TRPA in obtaining the necessary permits. I find that interesting, as the TRPA no longer issues permits in residential areas and has not for several years, as that is now left up to El Dorado County in this case. My feelings about this new building would not change whether it is a bear pen or a tool shed. It’s inappropriate where it is located.

Also, with respect to whether or not bears are considered small animals and thus can be housed at this location, Webster’s Dictionary defines bears as large mammals. Clearly under the Wildlife Care Use Permit large animals are not allowed at this facility.

I think the work the Millhams have done is extremely admirable and I continue to support their efforts. However, they have to follow all the rules just like the rest of us and blaming me is not going to solve the problems they themselves have created.

Since I purchased my lot in 1997 the Millhams have installed an electric fence, thousands of nails and spikes on the outside of their fence to keep the bears attracted to their facility from getting into their yard and thus killing the fawns, as has happened in the past. My concern is one of safety. If a bear tries to get into their yard and gets hurt or angered by these protective measures, they are placed back in our neighborhood and the only open area for them to get into LTWC is to come over my fence. I also have animals that are very important to me. I will not install the same defensive tools, as this would cause a potential liability problem for me and I do not want to hurt any animal or person that may get too close to my fence. I’m surprised they have not thought of that themselves.

In closing, at no time have I filed any formal complaints with the county Board of Supervisors or anyone else, although I have discussed this with a local supervisor and other county officials, which is my right as a taxpayer. I have kept quiet about this for months, not wanting to publicly embarrass the Millhams with the unfortunate decisions they have made. The problems they are having are their responsibility. I just hope if our local newspapers want to report further, they do their homework, as they have access to the same county and TRPA files that I researched prior to building my house. Those same files are available to any citizen upon request.

I have lived here for 39 years and the reason I stay is that I love Lake Tahoe, the trees, and yes, the animals, including the bears. That’s all part of the Tahoe experience.

John McDougall

South Lake Tahoe


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