Predator proposal draws fire

Wildlife-advocacy group opposes poison, using helicopters, ATVs.

A Forest Service proposal to allow the use of helicopters, four-wheel vehicles and poisoned bait against predators in wilderness areas – a tweaking of existing policy, according to the agency in Washington – is an affront to the meaning of wilderness and the beginning of systematic slaughter of wildlife, say environmental and carnivore-protection groups.

“It’s a horrible, horrible idea,” Wendy Keefover-Ring with Sinapu, a Boulder-based wildlife-advocacy group, said by telephone. “Wilderness is supposed to remain in a pristine state. These proposals take away the authority of the Forest Service to manage it.”

La Plata County Commissioner Wally White, a member of the county Predator Control Committee (now the Animal Damage Advisory Committee) in the early 1990s, speaking for himself, categorized the revisions as eco-terrorism.

“The Bush administration is practicing eco-terrorism against wildlife,” White said. “It’s a follow-up to the attack on roadless areas – opening them to development.

“There’s no reason to let the Wildlife Service do this,” White said. “They were set up in the 1930s to kill animals and are responsible for the disappearance of the wolf and grizzly bear in New Mexico and the grizzly in Colorado.”

Twenty-two percent – 415,356 acres – of the 1.9 million-acre San Juan National Forest is designated wilderness, according to the San Juan Public Lands Center. Nationally, 35 million acres of 193 million acres of Forest Service holdings – 18 percent – are designated as wilderness.

In the San Juan National Forest, 106,000 acres of wilderness are being grazed by livestock. The percentage of wilderness being grazed ranges from 78 percent in the Lizard Head Wilderness to 37 percent in the South San Juan Wilderness to 19 percent in the Weiminuche Wilderness.

Cattlemen aren’t overly concerned about coyotes and mountain lions, said Wayne Buck, president of the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association. What they fear, Buck said, are wolves, which could find their way to Colorado from Wyoming and New Mexico.

Peter Orwick, executive director of the American Sheep Industry Association, said the proposed Forest Service revisions would make predator control in wilderness more consistent with how it’s carried out elsewhere.

“Predator control is key to grazing,” Orwick said. “If we don’t do it, the losses would be very much higher.”

Losses of ewes and lambs by the 1,600 sheep operations in Colorado totaled 25,000 in 2004, Orwick said. Losses to predators reached 10,200 – about 60 percent attributed to coyotes, the same proportion as reported nationally, Orwick said.

Nationally, sheep ranchers lost 224,000 lambs and ewes in 2004 valued at $18.3 million, Orwick said. Sixty-three percent of the losses were to predators.

Don Fisher, the Forest Service’s national wilderness program leader, said by telephone from Washington that the revisions are an effort to reconcile agency policy with a memorandum of understanding with the wildlife-services division of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The Forest Service and the APHIS are Department of Agriculture agencies.

The inter-agency agreement was written in 1993 and renewed in 1998 and 2004. The revisions currently proposed would eliminate a provision requiring case-by-case approval of the regional forester for predator elimination and allow the use of aircraft and motorized vehicles in killing coyotes, mountain lions and bears. The use of pesticides would allow the introduction of poisoned bait in wilderness areas, environmentalists fear.

“The revisions are a policy update, a clarifying of roles and responsibilities,” Fisher said. “We don’t want to decimate species, but a certain number of them must be removed.”

Bottom line, Fisher said, “We already do some of this. The importance of predators to the integrity of the system is recognized. Poison is very rarely used.”

The statement infuriates Dave Petersen in the Durango office of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

“APHIS, which has used other names in the past, has a very long and nasty history that goes way back,” Petersen said. “Its primary role is predator control for the livestock industry. It’s almost totally for sheep ranchers.”

By any name, the federal predator-control agency has killed and poisoned wildlife, including bears and eagles, that are a functional part of the ecosystem, Petersen said.

“Now they’re proposing to use ATVs and dirt bikes in the wilderness, allow aerial gunning and let helicopters land,” Petersen said. “It’s an offense to the character of wilderness and a danger to human beings. No one wants to pack 20 miles to have some guy on a dirt bike or ATV come roaring up. This is just the beginning of bad things they can do for other reasons.”

Cattle deaths attributed to predators are a tiny fraction of the number of head produced, Keefover-Ring said.

She said USDA data from 2006 shows that last year, 104.5 million cattle were produced in the United States. Carnivores killed 190,000 head of cattle, 0.18 percent, according to the data. Coyotes were by far the most voracious predator, accounting for 97,000 – 51 percent – of the deaths. Domestic dogs were second, killing 21,900 head, 12 percent. “Other” causes, including weather, disease, poison, theft, digestive and respiratory problems, killed 3.8 million cattle, 3.69 percent.

Predators killed 3 percent of 7.6 million sheep produced in 2004, Keefover-Ring said.

On the other side, the USDA Wildlife Services killed 82,891 mammalian carnivores in 2004, Keefover-Ring said. Among the predators were 75,674 coyotes, 359 mountain lions, 397 black bears and 1,918 bobcats.

“The mandate of the Wildlife Service is to protect the livestock industry,” Keefover-Ring said. “The mandate of the Forest Service is to protect our wilderness. Aerial gunning and use of mechanized vehicles in wilderness is intolerable.”

White said the Forest Service hasn’t proven its case.

“This proposal is an unnecessary danger to wildlife and travelers in the area,” White said. “It would destroy what previous administrations have worked hard to establish.”

By Dale Rodebaugh | Herald Staff Writer
daler@durangoherald.com
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To comment

Public comment on proposed revisions in predator-damage control in wilderness areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service must be received by Aug. 7.

• Send written comments to Forest Service, USDA, Attn: Director, Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Resources, 201 14th St. S.W., Washington, D.C., 20250.

• Send e-mails to PDM@fs.fed.us or by fax to (202) 205-1145. If comment is sent by e-mail or fax, do not send duplicate comments via regular mail.

Confine written remarks to pertinent issues, explaining reasons and, where possible, referencing the specific section being addressed. All comments, including names and addresses are available for public inspection and copying.

Further information is available from Don Fisher at (202) 205-1414.

Orginal article appeared here.

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