(AP) DENVER A plan for handling troublesome predators in wilderness areas on national forest land could open the door to use of motorized vehicles and poisoned traps in the pristine spots, environmentalists said.
“This is supposed to be one of our most protected areas for habitat,” said Nina Fascione, vice president of field conservation programs for Defenders of Wildlife. “This proposal is antithetical to our nation’s concerns for wilderness.”
What concerns Fascione and other advocates is a provision that would eliminate the requirement that regional foresters approve predator control in wilderness areas on a case-by-case basis. Instead, predator control would be carried out under an agreement between the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Division, formerly know as Animal Damage Control.
The regional forester would still have to approve motor vehicles or the landing of aircraft used to shoot predators from above. Poisoned baits and traps, such as cyanide-loaded M-44s, would be last resorts, according to the proposal.
“They’re going to be opening up wild areas to motorized vehicles for the purpose of killing predators. They’re going to be transporting traps and poisons,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of the Boulder-based Sinapu, which advocates restoration and protection of such native carnivores as wolves and mountain lions.
Don Fisher, national wilderness program leader for the Forest Service, said the proposal would update the agency’s manual to reflect an agreement first drafted in 1993 with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. He said predator control is conducted now in wilderness areas, but it’s rare and likely will stay that way.
“The proposed revisions aren’t going to have a significant change on how we do business,” Fisher said.
The proposed amendment acknowledges that the Wildlife Services Division is the expert in predator control, Fisher said.
“But they don’t do anything in a vacuum. They would not approve any plan before meeting with us,” he added.
The proposal, open to public comment until Aug. 7, says predator control would be conducted in wilderness areas to protect public health and safety and endangered species, manage wildlife populations and prevent serious livestock losses.
Motor vehicles and bicycles are prohibited in federal wilderness areas. Livestock grazing is allowed on some of the land.
Of the 193 million acres of Forest Service land nationwide, about 35 million acres are wilderness.
Peter Orwick, executive director of the American Sheep Industry Association in Centennial, said the proposal might make predator control a little easier in the wilderness areas.
“It’s more labor intensive and expensive to go in and out of those places,” Orwick said.
Having the federal agents involved is also helpful
The most recent federal survey showed that more than 10,000 lambs and ewes were killed by predators in Colorado in 2004, according to the trade group. The total nationwide was at least 224,000 that year.
Coyotes accounted for nearly two-thirds of the losses.
Keefover-Ring of the wildlife advocacy group Sinapu said those statistics also show that only 3 percent of the 7.6 million sheep raised in 2004 were killed by predators. Meanwhile, the federal government spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars on killing bears, mountain lions, coyotes and other predators, she said.
“This proposal takes away the authority from the land management agency and hands it over to Wildlife Services,” Keefover-Ring said. “The Forest Service manages wildlife for the public trust. Wildlife Services’ mandate is to kill wildlife for the benefit of livestock producers.”
The latest available figures show that in 2004, the federal agency killed 75,674 coyotes, 190 wolves, 359 mountain lions and 397 black bears.
Gail Keirn, spokeswoman for the USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, said agents also use non-lethal methods to remove problem predators.
By Judith Kohler, Associated Press Writer