Monthly Archives: May 2006

Bear involved in home raid killed by wildlife officers

Bblack bear
Family denies warning
By Joey Bunch
Denver Post Staff Writer
The bear cub that climbed through a window of a home north of Larkspur on Wednesday evening may have had a history with the family, but the family denies ever getting warnings from the state Division of Wildlife.Three young girls were home when the bear broke in, and they escaped unharmed.An officer said the Collins family was warned last year to keep food out of sniffing distance after a mother bear and two cubs came prowling around.

A wildlife officer Wednesday found melon rinds under a deck, a dirty barbecue grill outside and fast-food scraps in an accessible garbage can, said Tyler Baskfield, a spokesman for the DOW.

The family was not cited.

“I emphatically deny that we’ve ever been warned or spoken to by any wildlife officers concerning bear issues,” the girls’ father, Steve Collins, said late Thursday. “As far as melon rinds, I told them that I had thrown one out. … What pertains to trash or food left over or fast food? I’ve just thrown away papers in that bin.”

The 18-month-old bear, believed to be one of the cubs from last year, was tranquilized then euthanized after Wednesday’s break-in.

Rob Edward, director of carnivore restoration for Sinapu, a Boulder-based animal-advocacy organization, said the family should have been ticketed.

“This is a poster child of what not to do” in bear country, he said.

The DOW had no choice but to kill the cub, Baskfield said. In most cases, frightened bears that wander into contact with humans can be relocated into the backcountry without further problems.

But “the bear was well-aware there were people in the house and went in anyway,” he said. “We can’t have a bear that has lost its fear of people, in the interest of public safety.”

Staff writer Manny Gonzales contributed to this report.


Taxpayers Fund Wildlife Eradication at Behest of Ranchers

by Megan Tady

While the federal government continues to kill wild predators tens of thousands in the service of ranchers, critics question the usefulness of the secondary slaughters.

There’s a war being waged out West with poison, aerial guns and traps. The enemy: America’s wildlife.

Although the conflict has raged since ranchers first staked out land, constructed fences and declared native wildlife a nuisance, the campaign to exterminate native predators from ranching areas has increased both in scale and cost, with taxpayers footing part of the bill.

Of the nearly $100 million the federal government spent on all “predator control” in 2005, $40 million was earmarked for safeguarding agriculture; $15 million of that went to specifically protect livestock from predators by hunting them from aircraft, poisoning them or slaying them in other ways. Farmers and ranchers have spent almost $200 million more on non-lethal predator controls.

But while taxpayers shell out money for predator control, US Department of Agriculture records show that in 2005, coyotes, wolves, bears and other non-human predators accounted for the deaths of only 190,000, or about one-fifth of one percent of cattle, out of a total population of 104.5 million.

Conversely, non-predator causes – aside from slaughter by humans – accounted for 3.86 million cattle lost during 2005. Respiratory problems were the leading cause of death, claiming over 1 million cattle, followed by digestive problems, which killed almost 650,000. Other causes of pre-slaughter losses include disease, illness, weather, theft and calving complications.

Despite the relatively small loss due to predation, Wildlife Services – the branch of the USDA responsible for predator control – killed 82,891 coyotes, wolves, bears, mountain lions and other mammalian cattle predators in 2004. Wildlife Services killed a record total 2.7 million “nuisance” animals in the same time period, including birds, squirrels and raccoons.

The lethal controls employed by Wildlife Services include shooting wildlife from small planes or helicopters – a practice known as aerial gunning – as well as more conventional hunting, trapping and poisoning.

“The public is unwittingly funding the slaughter of millions of animals in a way that’s not particularly productive,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

In fact, many wildlife advocates argue that the lethal predator-control program is doing more harm than good for ranchers.

“It certainly solves the immediate problem,” conceded David Gaillard of the Predator Conservation Alliance. “If you kill the coyote that just killed a sheep, then you don’t have to worry about that coyote for a few months. So it’s no question that it has an effect, and that’s why it’s supported. But it’s really not a long-term solution.”

Gaillard and others point out that coyotes have an adaptive ability to heighten reproduction when their numbers are threatened, causing the local population to burgeon.

“It’s like trying to empty the ocean with a bucket,” Ruch said. “The more that are killed, the more pups are born. It’s almost this carnage treadmill.”

A fundamental problem with lethal predator controls, advocates say, is that the practice leads to a loss of biodiversity and disruption to ecosystems.

“There’s certainly been big changes to the West due to agriculture, and predators have been hit particularly hard,” Gaillard said. “When you pull predators out of a natural system, that’s the first step to the whole system unraveling.”

As predator populations are eliminated, some other animal populations explode, including natural prey like deer and mice.

According to a 1994 study published in Conservation Biology, farming and ranching have increasingly encroached on the habitats of native wildlife. Currently, livestock graze on approximately 70 percent of the territory of eleven Western states. One 1998 study published in the journal BioScience found that grazing has contributed to the demise of 22 percent of native threatened and endangered species in the United States.

Cattle-grazing also decreases the amount of forage available to wildlife, thereby reducing the food available to predators’ natural prey.

“It’s kind of a double-whammy for predators,” Gaillard said, “because their natural prey has taken a setback, because the forage that used to feed them is now going to domestic livestock.”

Gaillard continued, “What we have is a homogenization of the landscape. Instead of diverse native species of plants and vegetation that was important for sustaining wildlife, it’s all become a homogenous crop of forage for livestock.”

Killing wildlife on behalf of the agriculture and livestock industries, coupled with the indiscriminate and often cruel exterminating techniques, has some people calling the system “inhumane.”

“The wildlife are our treasure and the government is squandering it. What they’re doing is so horrible,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of the Carnivore Protection Program at the wildlife-conservation group Sinapu.

Many wildlife advocates question the government’s practice of killing native species to protect ranchers whose cattle graze on public land. Wildlife Services operates by responding to kill-requests from farmers, ranchers and municipalities. Of the 264 million acres administered by the Bureau of Land Management, 164 million are authorized for livestock grazing.

“A handful of people with special interests are allowed to manage [wildlife] with impunity,” Keefover-Ring told TNS. “We’re just saying, ‘Is this in the common interest?'”

Keefover-Ring said agribusiness is driving the predator-control campaign. “We’re not talking mom and pop here,” she said. “This is big business. That agriculture lobby is huge.”

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that tracks political contributions to officials, agribusiness donated a total of $52 million in 2004 to Republicans and Democrats.

Howard Lyman, an ex-rancher from Montana now devoted to food-safety activism, and author of the book No More Bull, told TNS that the practice of killing predators, rather than learning how to live with them, is part of a longstanding ranching ideology.

“It’s a knee-jerk reaction: ‘By God, they’re out there. They’re going to kill my animals or eat my grass. Let’s get rid of them,'” he said. “This is a lifestyle that people of agriculture have grown up with. They just don’t want to share their resources with anything in the wild. So it’s really not an economic issue. It’s a mindset.”

But Jeff Eisenberg, executive director of the Public Land Council, which represents the industry group National Cattleman’s Beef Association, said ranchers and farmers try to balance being conscientious of wildlife and preserving their own interests.

“We’re very supportive of wildlife, but when predators are taking out livestock, that’s where we want to draw the line,” Eisenberg said. “There needs to be a balance. There needs to be consideration for the wildlife, certainly, but also for the people who live there and have made their lives there for multiple generations.”

Asked about the discrepancy between the small number of predator-caused losses and the amount of money spent on predator control, Eisenberg declined to comment, saying, “I don’t have those numbers.” He maintained, however, that livestock loss “is a bigger problem than probably gets reported.”

But many in the livestock sector say ranchers shouldn’t rely on lethal controls.

“I happen to believe it’s a privilege to be ranching, and it’s our responsibility to ranch with out killing the native species,” rancher Becky Weed of Montana said. She says her farm, 13 Mil
e Lamb and Wool, has respected predator populations for over ten years. “In many cases, it’s possible to ranch without killing native species. I feel like the wildlife play an important role in the landscape, and I don’t feel like I have a right to exterminate it, even if I wanted to.”

Weed has adopted a “predator friendly” label for all of her products. While she says using non-lethal controls can be a challenge, she advocates a combination of strategies, including lamas, guard dogs, and fences. She also employs safer animal husbandry practices such as corralling livestock at night.

A handful of other farms and ranches share Weed’s respect for local predators.

“We promote agriculture that protects and restores wild nature, and native predators are a part of nature,” said Jo Ann Baumgartner of the Wild Farm Alliance, which promotes sustainable farming.

“It requires a real commitment,” Weed said. “Sometimes it seems easiest to go out and shoot something, because then you feel like you’ve done something.”

Weed, however, said she hasn’t seen a commitment from Wildlife Services to adopt more non-lethal controls. “While there’s lots and lots of grassroots activity of people finding alternative methods,” she said, “I think the big squeaky wheel – senators, county commissioners and the subset of the ranching community – has been successful at keeping dollars flowing for lethal control.”

Ensnared by the law: Colorado trappers are itching for more than raccoons and coyotes

By David Olinger

Colorado Springs –
The face of a skinned coyote stares from the hood of the fur cape. Its body and legs hang over trapper Claude Oleyar’s shoulders and down his back.

“The black-powder, muzzle-loader people love these,” Oleyar said, adjusting the $125 novelty. “Dressing up like old mountain men.”

The coyote cape hangs among the assorted skins collected by a 61-year-old wildlife biologist who has spent most of his life trapping animals.

Everything he catches these days is somebody’s nuisance: pet-eating coyotes, attic squirrels, backyard raccoons, foxes and skunks, ringtailed cats prowling the bowels of the luxurious Broadmoor hotel.

But Oleyar and fellow trappers hope to be skinning some other animals soon.

Ten years after voters put a partial trapping ban into the state constitution, the practi tioners of Colorado’s oldest trade are calling for a new season on mink, swift fox and other mammals with valued pelts.

Their petition to the Colorado Wildlife Commission has reignited a debate between those content to admire wildlife through binoculars and those who see it as something to wear or eat.

“The trappers never accepted the outcome of the ballot initiative,” said Colorado Wildlife Alliance president Dave Jones.

“They’ve been whittling away at it, and now they’re going to see if they can kick the door open,” Jones said.

The Colorado Trappers Association was born 31 years ago at a Park County campground.

A small band of men decided Colorado should have a trappers’ group and called an organizing rendezvous in Fairplay.

To their surprise, they awoke in the morning to find a valley filled with 200 campers.

In 1995, the wildlife commission shut down recreational harvests of the animals the trappers now want to hunt.

A year later, 52 percent of Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment banning the taking of wildlife with leghold traps, lethal body-gripping traps, snares or poisons.

The amendment had exemptions for livestock and crop protection, human health and safety, scientific research and animal relocations.

It did not mention box traps – baited cages – which are now widely used.

Colorado trapping survived on those exceptions.

The 350 association members sell much of what they still trap at the National Western Stock Show in Denver and at a yearly auction.

This year’s auction brought in $104,664 from 18 species of fur, plus some antlers, skulls and horns.

Coyote pelts, 1,530 of them, led the sales. Auction prices ranged from 25 cents for a muskrat pelt to $550 for a bobcat skin.

Oleyar, who began animal trapping as a kid in suburban Virginia, says the state wildlife commission wrongly halted recreational trapping.

Mink, marten, foxes and weasels “are flourishing,” he said. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t trap some of them.”

Oleyar said a trapper’s killing method is no crueler than hunting elk with a rifle.

“I believe in utilizing wildlife. I like to hunt and eat what I hunt,” Oleyar said.

“Beaver is excellent. Bobcat and mountain lion are excellent. Muskrat is superb,” he said. “Coyotes are really rank.”

The renewed battle over trapping began in February with a one-page, handwritten request from the Colorado Trappers Association to the wildlife commission to add to the trapping list: weasels, martens, mink, gray foxes, opossums and spotted skunks.

The proposal also suggested trapping could help provide population data on the species.

“Since we’re the trappers’ association, everyone’s going ballistic,” said Marvin Miller, who made the request.

Sinapu, a Boulder-based wildlife advocacy group, says the proposed trapping would violate the state constitution and the research rationale is suspicious.

“We have concerns about the well-being of these populations,” said Wendy Keefover- Ring, Sinapu’s carnivore protection director.

“Then there’s the ethical issue: whether we should allow these animals to be trapped and harvested for their fur,” she said.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission, a governor-appointed body, is expected to vote on the trapping petition in July.

At the commission’s request, the Colorado Division of Wildlife drafted regulations for trapping three of the requested animals.

The division staff, however, recommended that there be no expansion of trapping.

“This is clearly ripe for debate,” division spokesman Tim Holeman said.

Animal skins were Colorado’s first big product and – before gold miners, ranchers and homesteaders – the reason the first traders came to the territory.

Mountain men Jim Bridger, Louis Vasquez and Jedediah Smith ranged the untamed Rockies, searching for beaver dams in the early 1800s.

Using jawed traps, they hunted beaver whose skins fetched $6 to $8 each in New York.

By 1830, mountain streams had been depleted of beaver, silk hats were in fashion, and the fur trade was in decline.

While fur trading never stopped, prices fell so low in the 1940s that El Paso County red fox growers simply turned animals loose on the Front Range.

Today, Oleyar sees signs of a price recovery bolstered by demands for fur coats and collars from Asian countries.

Oleyar saw the average price for a coyote skin rebound 50 percent in a year to $27. The demand for bobcats, he said, is phenomenal.

Its soft, spotted-gold fur makes “an awesome” and expensive coat, Oleyar said. “You need at least a dozen for a jacket.”

The tools of a lifetime of trapping dominate the backyard of his Colorado Springs home.

Under the deck, he keeps hundreds of leghold traps, body traps and snares. Along the fence, he stores box traps designed for everything from skunk to coyote.

Oleyar salvages fur mainly in the winter, when animal coats look their best.

This past winter, he caught 60 coyotes, mostly in foothold traps or by shooting them when they responded to animal calls.

As a professional trapper, he learned to mimic the screech of a wounded cottontail and the bark of a coyote and to snare a skunk in an opaque box without getting sprayed.

“I have come home smelling skunky a few times,” Oleyar said.

A skilled trapper, Oleyar says he studies the habits and habitats of his prey and knows the art of patience.

Once a bobcat padded through the snow right past two traps only to be snared by the third, Oleyar said.

Hiding in tumbleweeds, he called a coyote close enough to touch.

“I could see the veins in his eyes,” he said.

Oleyar runs a home “animal damage control” business that gets $100 for an urban coyote and $50 for a skunk. He gets to keep the skins.

“It’s a very challenging, adventurous thing to catch a coyote,” Oleyar said. “I love that.”

He also believes resources should not be wasted, and so he takes the time to skin, flesh and dry a skunk pelt that might sell for $5 to $10.

He picked up pelts of coyote and skunk, running his hands through their soft, thick fur.

“To me, fur is romantic,” he said. “I love handling the stuff.”

Librarian Barbara Hudson contributed to this report.

Staff writer David Olinger can be reached at 303-820-1498 or

Feds, environmental groups argue over protection for lynx


DENVER – A federal appeals court heard arguments Wednesday over whether lynx that are protected by the Endangered Species Act in Colorado keep that protection when they wander into New Mexico, where they officially do not exist.

Environmental groups sued hoping to force the U.S. Forest Service in New Mexico to consider wandering lynx as it draws up forest management plans. They argued the law declaring the mountain cat a threatened species gives it protection everywhere.

Mark Haag, a lawyer with the Justice Department, disagreed, arguing federal protections don’t extend to lynx in New Mexico.

He disputed arguments by the environmental groups that managers of the Carson and Santa Fe national forests must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on how activities might affect lynx.

“The fact that the lynx is not listed in New Mexico is sufficient to dismiss the claim,” Haag told a panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has declared the lynx threatened in 14 states, including Colorado, Utah and Wyoming but not New Mexico, he said. New Mexico is not in the lynx population area mapped out by federal biologists.

A federal judge in New Mexico ruled in 2005 that forest managers weren’t required to consider lynx in their plans because their presumed absence. One of the groups that brought the suit, Santa Fe, N.M.-based Forest Guardians, appealed that decision.

Appeals court Judge Michael Murphy questioned Haag about the animal’s different status in New Mexico and Colorado.

“I’m trying to put myself in the paws of the lynx,” Murphy said. “I must know I must not cross that line or I’m dead.”

The judges didn’t indicate when they would issue a decision.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife lists the long-haired, tuft-eared cat as endangered and has released more than 200 Canada lynx in southwestern Colorado since 1999. As the population has grown and kittens have been born, some of the animals have ventured into other states, including New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah.

The lynx is protected as a threatened species in Colorado under the Endangered Species Act. Matthew Bishop, the attorney for the environmental groups, said that listing protects lynx, including individual cats, throughout the lower 48 states, and what land managers do in New Mexico can harm lynx wandering in from Colorado.

Bishop contended the federal government’s argument amounts to saying that lynx can be “hunted, shot, killed as soon as they cross an invisible line” into New Mexico.

The judges questioned whether the lawsuit was premature because the forest management plans being challenged are still being written. But Bishop replied that federal officials have acknowledged that forest plans allowing logging, motorized recreation and other activities might harm lynx in the Rockies. He said the law clearly requires the Forest Service to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Colorado is usually considered the southernmost tip of the cat’s historic range, although environmentalists maintain biologists’ data show lynx living in New Mexico.

Trapping, poisoning and development wiped out native lynx in Colorado, with the last confirmed sighting before the recovery program began coming in 1973 near Vail.

Wildlife Taking Only a Gnat Bite Out of Domestic Cattle

Public and Private Outlays on Predator Control Dwarf Losses
Press Release

Contact: Wendy Keefover-Ring (303) 447-8655, Ext. 1#; Chas Offutt (202) 265-7337

Washington, DC —Only a negligible percentage of American cattle was lost to wildlife predation in 2005, according to new U.S. Department of Agricultural figures released today by two environmental groups, Sinapu and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Yet, taxpayers and ranchers are spending an estimated $300 million per year on lethal and non-lethal predator control, more than three times the estimated cattle losses caused by wildlife.

The new cattle production and losses numbers were compiled by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), an arm of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 2005, cattle production was higher than the year before in virtually all categories. Predator-caused losses from all species, including dogs, amounted to only 0.18% of total cattle production over the year:

  • Poor weather caused substantially more cattle deaths (45% more) than all forms of wildlife predation;
  • Dogs kill more livestock than any other species except coyotes. Dog-caused cattle deaths equaled the totals for the more storied predators (cougars, wolves, bobcats and bears), combined; and
  • Coyotes were responsible for more than half of all recorded cattle losses. At the same time, the number of coyotes killed by federal eradication agents is on a par with cattle killed with by coyotes (90,000 versus 97,000, respectively).

The cattle inventory for 2005 ran to 104.5 million head. Disease, illness, weather, theft, calving complications and other non-wildlife causes accounted for losses of 3.86 million cattle during the year, while predators of all types killed 190,000 cattle. The number of predation losses was actually greater than in 2004 (190,000 versus 147,000) but, with booming cattle production, the percentage of losses stayed roughly the same.

“Disease, weather, and birthing problems cause far more headaches for livestock producers than do carnivores,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu. “Ironically, producers can do nothing about the weather and calving but are willing to unleash a paramilitary assault using poisons, aerial gunning, and hidden explosive devices against native wildlife.”

Ranchers and farmers reported spending nearly $200 million on non-lethal forms of wildlife control, such as fencing and guard dogs. Taxpayers spend approximately $100 million per year for lethal wildlife control in the form of Wildlife Services, another USDA branch formerly known as Animal Damage Control. In 2004, the last year for which numbers are available, Wildlife Services killed a record 2.7 million “nuisance” wildlife in response to requests from ranchers, farmers, and municipalities.

“On one hand we have federal agencies spending millions to protect wildlife and then we have another federal bureau spending millions more to exterminate the same wildlife—and, of course, they do not coordinate with each other,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Each year, bad weather kills many more cows than predators but no one is calling for weather control.”


See the comparison of wildlife versus non-wildlife causes of cattle lossesLook at the species break-down for cattle predation

Read the NASS report on Cattle Death Loss, May 5, 2006

View predation livestock loss figures for 2004

Revisit record numbers of wildlife killed by federal Wildlife Services