Wildlife Services should conduct a more in-depth environmental analysis of its predator-killing activities in Idaho than it has in the past, and consider abandoning lethal methods entirely, many individuals and organizations told the agency in scoping comments submitted over the past month.
In December, Wildlife Services, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sought public comment on issues that it should address in a revised environmental assessment of its damage-management activities in Idaho.
According to a bulletin published by the agency, predator species that will be addressed in the EA include coyotes, badgers, black and grizzly bears, magpies, bobcats, ravens, mountain lions, raccoons, red foxes and striped skunks.
Todd Grimm, the agency’s state director, said management of all those species is being conducted under EAs drafted in 1996 and 2002. He said current guidelines from the Department of Agriculture advise rewriting EAs every five years. He said the new document will not include wolf control, which is addressed in a separate EA drafted in 2011.
The agency received 66 scoping comments by the Jan. 14 deadline. Grimm said a draft EA is scheduled to be completed by spring, at which time there will be a second, 30-day public comment period.
All the comments questioned the agency’s current reliance on lethal methods to reduce conflicts between wildlife and agriculture. A letter from the American Society of Mammologists advocated “federal leadership in the practice of non-lethal control of predators on livestock.”
One 30-page document was submitted by a coalition of seven conservation organizations, including local groups Western Watersheds Project and the Boulder-White Clouds Council.
“The Wildlife Services program has been marked by secrecy, controversy, public opposition, reprehensible employee behavior, stale and deficient environmental reviews, and indiscriminate killings of large numbers of animals, both target and non-target,” the letter stated.
The groups asked for a full environmental impact statement, rather than a less extensive EA, and said the EIS must include an up-to-date discussion of the role of carnivores in ecosystems and the environmental impacts of their removal.
The groups requested that Wildlife Services consider an alternative of ending its predator-control activities on public lands. They said such an analysis should consider the economics of public lands livestock grazing.
“Unlike the analyses in [Wildlife Service’s] existing [National Environmental Policy Act] documents, all alternatives must be given a full and fair evaluation,” the groups said.
They said that would require evaluation of the ecological role and baseline conditions of every species targeted for or vulnerable to predator-damage management. It would also require a detailed analysis of alternatives to lethal control that have been developed in recent years, including fladry, solar powered electric fencing, use of calving barns, noise for preventing livestock protection, better livestock husbandry and strict requirements to remove dead livestock, they said.
Despite the relatively recent drafting of the wolf program environmental assessment in 2011, the groups contended that it is now outdated due to new science and is intertwined with the rest of Wildlife Service’s predator-control program. They asked that the agency prepare one statewide EIS that includes wolf management.
The conservation groups contended that numerous reports have shown that livestock losses due to coyotes and other native carnivores are relatively low compared to other causes, such as bad weather, calving problems and illness.
They said an EIS should include a full and fair evaluation of the direct and indirect consequences of predator-control methods.
“For example, how often are traps and snares checked?” the letter stated. “Does [Wildlife Services] follow the state of Idaho rule on checking traps every 72 hours, or something more strict, and how are such rules enforced? Where are each type of traps placed—on both private and public lands, and are there any restrictions on distances from roads or trails? How often are M-44 sodium cyanide capsules checked? Where are they placed—on both private and public lands, and are there any restrictions on distances from roads or trails? How are impacts of [predator damage management] tracked and monitored?”
The groups also asked that monitoring be done to determine whether Wildlife Services’ wolf killing to benefit elk populations, done at the request of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, had had the desired effects.
According to a Wildlife Services data report for Idaho, among the species killed by the agency in 2013 were 2,790 coyotes, 78 wolves, 24 badgers, seven mountain lions, 43 beavers and 196,351 starlings. Idaho Wildlife Services’ fiscal 2014 budget was just under $1.4 million.