Monthly Archives: July 2006

Audit shows toxins poorly safeguarded

Federal audit says biological agents and toxins used to kill wildlife are poorly safeguarded

WASHINGTON — Biological agents and toxins used to kill wildlife are poorly safeguarded by the Agriculture Department, a federal audit found.

At issue is how the department handles and stores the poisons it uses to kill animals such as starlings, wild turkeys and chickens, black bears, coyotes and wolves that are considered a nuisance.

The department’s Wildlife Services program uses chemical agents to kill animals, mainly because they threaten livestock, crops or people in airplanes.

An audit by the department’s inspector general faulted the agency for:

-failing to keep accurate inventories of agents or toxins.

-not restricting access to agents or toxins.

-not having complete security plans.

Auditors visited 10 of 75 registered entities where agents are kept and found that none of the 10 complied with security regulations.

Department spokeswoman Karen Eggert said Thursday that officials take their wildlife responsibilities “very seriously and comply with all federal and state laws associated with the use of hazardous materials.”

She said the department stepped up its oversight of hazardous materials in 2004 with quarterly site reviews to make sure its inventory database is accurate. Chemicals are secured in locked storage facilities, and employees work closely with states to be certified to distribute chemicals, she said.

Environmental groups criticize the department for poisoning animals.

“The larger question is why the federal government is scattering highly dangerous toxicants all across the country as a wildlife control strategy,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring, spokeswoman for Sinapu, a Colorado-based advocacy group for wolves and other predators.

“For reasons of public safety, as well as environmental integrity, the Department of Agriculture needs to move away from its poison first mentality for wildlife management,” she said.

The department killed more than 2.7 million nuisance animals in 2004, the most recent year for which data was available. The majority of animals killed were starlings, birds that destroy crops and contaminate livestock feed.

By Libby Quaid

AP FOOD AND FARM WRITER
July 28, 2006
CBS News

Click here to view original article.

Press Release: Persistent Homeland Security Problems at Agriculture

USDA Ignoring Security Rules While Dispensing Advice to Farmers.
For Immediate Release: Thursday, July 27, 2006
Contact: Wendy Keefover-Ring (303) 447-8655, Ext. 1#; Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337

Washington, DC — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has failed two straight audits over its unsafe handling of highly toxic agents at the same time the agency is distributing a detailed Homeland Security “checklist” to farmers, ranchers and dairy operators, according to agency documents released today by Sinapu and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The audits, conducted by the Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General in 2005 and 2006, concern a branch of the agency, ironically named Wildlife Services, which exterminates wildlife at the request of farmers and ranchers. In 2004, the last year for which figures are available, Wildlife Services killed 2.7 million animals, principally birds, using an array of lethal chemical agents ranging from sodium cyanide to aluminum phosphate, deployed across the country as bait, in fumigants, sprays and gases.

The Inspector General repeatedly found the agency in violation of the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act for failing to secure “dangerous biological agents and toxins,” including not keeping accurate inventories whereby theft, unauthorized sale or other losses of these toxins could be detected. Other violations included regular access to toxins by unauthorized persons, distribution of chemical agents to untrained individuals and inadequate security plans. All ten of the Wildlife Services sites audited by the Inspector General were found to be out of compliance with bioterrorism regulations.

“The larger question is why the federal government is scattering highly dangerous toxicants all across the county as a wildlife control strategy,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu, pointing, as an example, to Compound 1080 (sodium monoflouroacetate), an odorless, colorless, water-soluble agent used to poison coyotes in some states that has raised concerns as a potential chemical warfare threat to water supplies. “For reasons of public safety, as well as environmental integrity, the Department of Agriculture needs to move away from its ‘poison first’ mentality for wildlife management.”

Despite the performance by its Wildlife Services arm, USDA is dispensing advice to farmers in a 20-page “Pre-Harvest Security Guidelines and Checklist 2006” covering a wide range of topics, from storage of agricultural chemicals to trimming trees and shrubs so that “people [cannot] easily hide around the farm” to conducting security checks on pasture lands. Other Homeland Security awareness advice includes installing alarms and motion detectors, as well as issuing “visitor badges.”

“The Department of Agriculture itself poses a bigger homeland security threat than any possible infiltration of Iowa by Al Qaeda,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the USDA has not acted to follow many of the Inspector General’s recommendations or to punish the responsible Wildlife Services managers. “USDA ought to stop giving out homeland security advice until it starts following the most basic bio-security precautions.”

In addition to the lack of toxic controls, the groups have raised concerns about aviation accidents stemming from the Wildlife Services aerial gunning program as well as dangers to people, pets and “non-target” wildlife due to the agency’s indiscriminate se of traps, poisoned bait and other eradication techniques.

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Read the USDA Pre-Harvest Security Guidelines and Checklist 2006

View the 2005 USDA Office of Inspector General audit report

See the 2006 USDA Office of Inspector General audit report

Look at the record number of wildlife kills conducted by USDA Wildlife Services

Predator control changes proposed

Aerial gunning, motor vehicles would be allowed in wilderness
Recent proposed changes by the U.S. Forest Service to deal with problem predators in wilderness areas are renewing a heated issue that has inflamed environmental groups and wildlife advocates for more than a decade.

The Forest Service is proposing to allow Wildlife Services, a federal division of the Animal and Health Plant Inspection Service, to kill predators in wilderness areas that are causing problems to livestock being grazed on public lands. The revisions would permit Wildlife Services to use aircraft, motorized equipment and poison bait. Until now, dealing with problem predators in wilderness areas has been carried out on a case-by-case basis, with regional foresters of a wilderness area approving predator control practices at the end of a process. The proposed changes would alter the process by having the Forest Service and Wildlife Services work together from the get go, eliminating the need for the regional forester approval at the end. Regional foresters would still have to approve the use of motor vehicles or aircraft landing used for aerial gunning.

Essentially, the new proposal opens the door for Wildlife Services to use helicopters and other motorized vehicles to go into wilderness areas and shoot predators that kill livestock. The proposal indicates that certain conditions must be in place for these activities, and policies have to be established requiring minimal disturbance to the wilderness  both its resources and users.

Forest Service officials call the changes internal housekeeping. Katie Armstrong, press information office for the Forest Service, says the agency is simply updating the Forest Service manual. For the past few years, she explains, the Forest Service and Wildlife Services have been operating together based on a 1993 memorandum of understanding. The MOU lays out the responsibilities of the agencies in managing problem predators.

But conservation groups and citizens are decrying the proposed changes. They dont see it simply as internal housekeeping but rather a move toward the systematic killing of predators in pristine wilderness areas that for years have been protected to minimize the destruction of nature and resources.

Under this proposal, the Forest Service is giving away its authority to Wildlife Services, says Wendy Keefover-Ring, carnivore protection director for wildlife protection group Sinapu, based in Boulder.

Keefover-Ring is appalled at how the proposed changes violate the Wilderness Act, which was put in place in 1964 and prevents the use of vehicles or other mechanical equipment in wilderness areas.

You cant even ride a bicycle in wilderness areas, and now they are opening the way for motorized equipment to be used in a hugely indiscriminate way in poisoning animals, she says. It is an outrage.

Armstrong says the public wont notice any differences in wilderness areas under the proposed changes. She explains that the Forest Service has always had the discretion to allow use of motorized equipment in wilderness areas in cases of emergencies or for other special reasons. Under the current Forest Service proposal, regional foresters determine the kind of lethal measures Wildlife Services can use when killing animals in wilderness areas. Armstrong argues that it clarifies roles, rather than expanding their authority.

A shift in responsibility

The Forest Services proposed changes carry heavy weight among groups and citizens who advocate for wildlife protection. Reactions are rooted in the longstanding disapproval of Wildlife Services, a U. S. Department of Agriculture program that destroys animals that are threatening or killing livestock. In 1993, the Forest Service signed an agreement that handed off predator problems to Wildlife Services, then known as Animal Damage Control.

At the time, critics argued that the agreement would create conflicting goals of the agencies, with Wildlife Services killing animals in ways that were contradictory to the nature of the Forest Service. Environmentalists sued in an attempt to block the agreement, but failed. Passion about the agreement ignited again about four years later when Wildlife Services put forth a plan for the San Juan-Rio Grande National Forest that would allow the agency to track and shoot by helicopter coyotes  even if they werent causing trouble to livestock.

Forest Service officials were somewhat blindsided by the plan and spoke to its lack of concern for their own goals. Critics feared it would set a dangerous precedent for public-lands management, giving Wildlife Services too much authority over what goes on in the forests. Wildlife Services plans for aerial gunning extended beyond the San Juan National Forest and into several other Western states.

A key difference between the Forest Service and Wildlife Services is that the latter doesnt allow the public to appeal its decisions. Opponents of the agencys plans have to take up their fight in court, which is a much costlier and less-transparent option.

So when the recent proposed changes of the agencies 1994 MOU came up a few weeks ago, Wildlife Services watchdogs cringed at the apparent step toward giving it more authority.

The Wildlife Service program should be abolished, not enhanced, says Sinapus Keefover-Ring.

A vociferous opponent of the agency, Keefover-Ring says Wildlife Services continues to operate in a vacuum, leaving the public at its doorstep waiting for it to be held accountable.

They obfuscate what they are doing by using smoke and mirrors, she adds. What they are doing is repugnant.

Adding it all up

According to Wildlife Services reports, the agency killed 2.7 million animals during the 2004 fiscal year. Of the 11 mammalian carnivores that pose most damage in Western states, Wildlife Services killed 83,000 in 2004. The agency has not yet released its numbers for fiscal year 2005, which should have been available in June. Agency officials did not return phone calls for this story.

Numbers are an important aspect of this issue, says Keefover-Ring, because when drilling down the costs and scale of the federal program, it becomes apparent how little of a threat predators are to livestock. The underlying issue here is the fact that livestock losses are over-exaggerated, she says.

According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, producers raised 104.5 million head of cattle in 2005. Of those cattle, only 0.18 percent (190,000) was killed by predators. More  3.69 percent  were killed by other factors, including diseases, health problems, calving and weather. Sheep production and losses show a similar picture. Of the 7.6 million sheep and lambs produced in 2004, 3 percent died from predators and 5 percent from other factors.

The cost of the predator-management activities shows the impact on taxpayers. Last year the federal government spent nearly $100 million on predator control  $40 million was spent on safeguarding agriculture, with $15 million of that going toward protecting livestock from predators by aerial gunning, poison or other means.

The relatively small loss of livestock to predation may prove how the Wildlife Services is doing more harm than good when looking at a recent study about sheep ranching, says Kim Murray Berger, conservation scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, based in New York. Berger recently published a study concluding that economic conditions, not predators, are causing the decline of sheep production in the United States.

Bergers study showed that the most important factor in sheep production over time is the price of hay, the animals main food source. According to Berger, the food factor contributes a 56 percent variation of production year to year, yet the amount of money spent on predator control affects the overall production numbers by only 6 percent. Berger says the predator-control program has been successful in killing carnivores, but not in helping sheep ranchers earn a living and stay in business.

Too soon to tell

According to the San Juan Public Lands Center, 22 percent of the San Juan National Forest, which encompasses 1.9 million acres, is designated as wilderness areas. About 106,000 acres are grazed by livestock in the Weminuche, South San Juan and Lizard Head wilderness areas. There are nine active sheep allotments and 17 active cattle allotments.

Mark Ball, wildlife program leader for the center, says the San Juan National Forest officials are still digesting the proposed changes.

Its too preliminary to speak to it, says Ball. Its hard to react to anything until we get details on exactly what will happen.

Ball says Wildlife Services makes rare appearances in the San Juan forest area to do animal-damage control work. Consequently, he doesnt expect the proposed changes to carry much impact.

From what Ive seen, the (changes) are minimal.

The Forest Service is accepting public comments on the proposed revisions until Aug. 7.

by Amy Maestas
The Durango Telegraph

Volume 5, No. 30, July 27, 2006

Click here to view original article.

Sign the petition to keep wilderness free from the war on wildlife

In June, the U.S. Forest Service announced that it would give away its authority to regulate predator-killing in Wilderness Areas and Research Natural Areas on our national forests, and they will allow for increased motorized activities such as aerial gunning of wildlife in these special areas. This proposal benefits only one special interest: the livestock industry. Please take a moment to sign the petition by clicking the green button below, and then tell your friends and family about the petition. We hope to generate as many signatures as possible by August 4th, 2006!

Sign the petition

Bumper Sticker of the Week

Here’s a gem, sent to us by a friend in Wyoming. Remember Wyoming? Apparently the twenty-first century hasn’t yet found Wyoming. Come to think of it, I don’t think the twentieth century has found Wyoming.

For a look at the organization behind the bumper sticker, click here. What’s interesting is that this “organization” seems to be focused on issues completely unrelated to wolves (though they do have a blank “Wolves” section on the site).  Some of their “demands” seem to have been written by someone leaning left of center.  If I had an emoticon for “scratching my head”, I’d use it here.
Wolves - government Sponsored Terrorists?

Fish and Wildlife Service denies state petition to delist wolves

Two black wolves in YellowstoneCHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has denied a petition from the state of Wyoming that had asked to remove the gray wolf population in the northern Rocky Mountains from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. The state promises a legal challenge.

Wyoming officials had proposed a policy of allowing wolves to live unmolested in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The state also proposes to allow trophy hunting for the animals in a large area immediately outside the parks while classifying them as predators that could be shot on sight elsewhere.

In rejecting the state’s petition, the Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday that it couldn’t remove federal protections for wolves in Wyoming until the state sets firm limits on how many could be killed. The federal agency also said the state needs to commit to maintaining a set minimum population of the animals.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal said Monday that the federal agency’s decision will make it easier for Wyoming to go to court and get a judge to decide whether the state’s plan is scientifically adequate.

Just hours before Monday’s announcement, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal and state Attorney General Pat Crank released a letter in which they warned the federal agency that the state intended to sue to compel action on that petition and another petition the state had filed.

Ed Bangs, coordinator of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s gray wolf recovery effort in Helena, Mont., said Monday that his agency is satisfied with the number of wolves now roaming the hills in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

”We don’t want to see more wolves in the wild,” Bangs said. ”We think the population is fully recovered.”

But Bangs said Wyoming needs to change its state law to give the state Game and Fish Department authority to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs and 100 total wolves in the state in midwinter before the federal agency can agree to removing federal protections.

Bangs said the Fish and Wildlife Service wants to see regulated public hunting of wolves in the three states. However, he said, that in order for that to happen, the agency has to be assured that if it removed the protections of the endangered species act, the wolves would be adequately protected.

”Our conclusion is that Wyoming law, and its plan, really don’t provide enough assurance for us to move forward with delisting at this time,” Bangs said.

Crank said Monday the state is satisfied that its plan to manage the wolves by providing them safe haven within the national parks and decreasing protections outside the parks would conserve the population in the state.

Crank said having Wyoming wolves protected under federal law was ”having a detrimental impact on several areas.” He said elk calf numbers have dropped from as high as 30 per hundred population during winter months down to below 10 calves per 100 elk in areas where there are many wolves.

Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said Monday he was disappointed, but not surprised, with the federal agency’s rejection of Wyoming’s petition to delist the wolves.

Magagna said his group is a member of the Wolf Coalition, an association of groups representing the agriculture industry, sportsmen and others. He said his group will encourage the coalition to join the state in litigating the federal agency’s decision.

Magagna said he lost 51 sheep last year in the upper Sweetwater River Drainage and has lost 12 so far this year.

”I think what we’re seeing is the wolves are disbursing more and more across the state,” Magagna said. ”We’re starting to see more wolves in the Big Horn mountains, for example.”

Rob Edward of Sinapu, a Boulder, Colo.-based wildlife advocacy group, applauded the federal decision.

”It means Fish and Wildlife is serious about holding the state of Wyoming accountable for managing wolves in a proactive, conservation-minded way,” Edward said. ”Wolves still have a long way to go before they’re actually recovered. The population in Wyoming is important to recovery of the species across a broad swath of the western United States.”

Franz Camenzind, executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, said Monday that he’s sorry that the state has been so ”Wyoming-headed.”

”We seem to think that the Wyoming way is the only way, and the science and certainly our neighbors would say that there is another way,” Camenzind said. ”This keeps getting verified with some of the Fish and Wildlife decisions.”

By BEN NEARY – Associated Press Writer
Click here for original article.

Wolf Habitat in Northern New Mexico Off-Limits to Drilling

Great news!  Our partners in New Mexico have struggled long and are near too winning a significant victory to protect the Valle Vidal area of the Carson National Forest. This area directly abuts Vermejo Park Ranch (near Raton, NM), a prime potential area for wolf reintroduction in the southern reached of the Southern Rockies.  To learn more about this most important campaign, see the article in the Washington Post.