News came out last week that taxpayer-funded and woefully misnamed Wildlife Services killed five wild wolves in central Idaho for alleged livestock depredation—another in a long line of such wolf-killing actions by this secretive government agency.

Wildlife Services, which Congressman Peter DeFazio calls “one of the most opaque and least accountable agencies” in the federal government, is currently seeking public comments on a new Environmental Assessment (EA) which considers continuing and expanding its “predator damage management” activities in Idaho. This, of course, is a euphemism for “killing.” This half-hearted attempt to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed earlier this year by groups including Western Watersheds Project, which alleged that Wildlife Services’ existing analyses were stale and incomplete.

The EA not only allows for continued government killing of coyotes, bears, mountain lions, and more—but audaciously proposes to expand operations to support the wishes of Idaho Department Fish and Game! This expanded killing could include poisoning ravens in the name of sage-grouse, killing mountain lions in the name of bighorn sheep, and even killing predators in the name of non-native species such as ring-necked pheasants.

It’s time we demand WS end its destructive lethal predator control practices, which channel our federal taxpayer dollars to benefit a handful of private interests. The new EA fails for the following reasons, among others:

Wildlife Services is Killing Idaho’s Wildlife:

USDA Wildlife Services plane with stickers representing each wolf killed.

USDA Wildlife Services plane with stickers representing each wolf killed.

Idaho WS killed 116,891 animals in 2014 to further its mission of “provid[ing] Federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist.” Here’s how the 2014 numbers break down:

  • 113,780 starlings were poisoned with DRC-1339
  • 1,434 coyotes and 1 wolf were gunned from fixed-wing aircraft
  • 12 coyote dens were destroyed with gas cartridges, which kill animals via asphyxiation
  • 92 coyotes and 24 wolves were gunned from helicopters
  • 105 coyotes were poisoned by cyanide capsules from M-44 traps (a baited device that provides a facial blast of sodium cyanide, causing convulsions, paralysis, and death)
  • 2 domestic animals were unintentionally poisoned using M-44s.
  • 168 coyotes and 8 beavers were killed using neck snares (a steel cable catching the animal by the neck, tightening as the animal tries to free itself)
  • 5 beavers were intentionally killed by body-grip traps
  • Foothold trap kills include the following. Foothold traps use steel jaws to clamp animals by the leg, holding it in place until agents can kill it. Sometimes, however, traps are not checked for long periods of time, resulting in slow and excruciating deaths from exposure.
Species Intentional Unintentional
Badgers 8 1
Beavers 5
Coyotes 220
Foxes, Red 4
Lions, Mountain 1 1
Muskrats 1
Raccoons 1 2
Skunks 3 3
Wolves 20
Bears, Black 5
Total 263 18

Wildlife Services’ Killing Methods are Cruel:

The EA fails to take a hard look at the humaneness of Wildlife Services’ killing practices. Amazingly, Wildlife Services argues that it reduces “overall” amounts of pain and suffering by killing wildlife. It asks readers to “consider the amount of suffering and death that occurs in the absence of predator removal,” referring to predators killing prey in order to survive. Wildlife Services rationalizes that “[t]o the extent that predator control removes animals that would otherwise continue to kill or injure prey animals, the overall level of pain and suffering may be reduced.”

This “universal balance of pain and suffering” argument becomes even more absurd when you consider the ultimate fate of the animals Wildlife Services seeks to protect from predator cruelty—the slaughterhouse.

Wildlife Services Refused to Consider Important Issues:

Wildlife Services refused to consider in detail many issues that conservationists raised as critical, including the following:

  • Effectiveness of its methods: Wildlife Services’ failure to consider the effectiveness of its lethal methods is particularly galling. Recent studies have found that as the number of wolves killed increased, the number of livestock depredations the following year increased as well. This groundbreaking work profoundly undermines Wildlife Services’ actions.
  • Impact on biodiversity and trophic cascades (the impacts that predators, or their absence, have on their prey and the rest of the environment): Wildlife Services implies that these issues are not implicated without complete removal of a predator population.
  • Whether the action is highly controversial or whether its effects are highly uncertain
  • Impacts on the public’s aesthetic enjoyment of predators
  • Appropriateness of manipulating wildlife for the benefit of hunters
  • Appropriateness of using rancher-supplied data to quantify livestock losses
  • Reliance on antiquated science: Wildlife Services, in many cases, relies on studies from the 1940s and 1950s to justify its methods.

Wildlife Services Inflates the Economic Benefits of Livestock:

Wildlife Services attempts to justify its actions by over-inflating the economic importance of public lands ranching. It presents generalized figures for livestock, but fails to distinguish feedlots and dairies from the much more marginal public lands livestock industry that WS subsidizes. In fact, public lands ranching accounts for perhaps 0.2% of all jobs in Idaho, so predator killing on these lands benefits only a handful of private interests. For example, the Custer County Five-Year Resource Conservation and Business Plan states that agriculture as a whole accounts for only 2.4% of all jobs in the county, yet WS is very active in Custer County.

Wildlife Services provides some raw numbers for the supposed value of livestock lost to predators, but fails to put the numbers in context by providing the value of livestock lost to non-predatory causes. National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) data from 2010 show that predators are responsible for but a tiny fraction of livestock deaths:

  • 94.5% of all cattle deaths and 91.8% of all calf deaths were a result of non-predator causes
  • Respiratory problems are the leading cause of non-predator deaths at 28%, followed by digestive problems at 13.4%.

Overall, Wildlife Services failed to meaningfully and objectively analyze the concerns raised. Instead, it amounts to a lengthy but insincere justification for continuing and expanding Wildlife Services’ current activities.

Please let Idaho Wildlife Services know that the one-sided analysis of its wildlife-killing program has not gone unnoticed. Demand accountability and scientific accuracy from those seeking to spend your tax dollars to kill wildlife.

You can submit comments here:

http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2014-0105

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About The Author

Rance Shaw

Rance is a legal intern at Western Watersheds Project. He is a third-year law student and Environmental and Natural Resources Law Fellow at the University of Oregon.

13 Responses to Idaho Wildlife Services: Your Comments Needed

  1. avatar Della Munnich says:

    Wolves are a necessary predator! It seems special interests are dictating destruction of wolves! Paid by our tax dollars. I as an Idaho citizen protesting Idaho Wildlife Services!

  2. avatar michael gabel says:

    As usual wild animal control has been pimped out to the gun nuts, wahoos who just love to kill…..and the NRA

  3. avatar Zeewolf says:

    A copy of my comment:

    I strongly protest the continued use of my taxes to pay for predator control. I am especially appalled by the indiscriminate use of poisons. I would also like to see a congressional investigation of Wildlife Services, an opaque agency that seems above the law. Having advocated for the restoration of wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains, it is adverse to my sensibilities to have the federal government continue to remove wolves for a handful of special interests. This policy is against the public’s desire to manage our wildlife, including predators, for all people regardless of whether they “use” this resource or just want to know that these populations exist unimpeded. Besides, in this case, the State of Idaho has made such a farce of wolf management, continually blackening the eye of the federal government, that I see no reason to spend any more of my tax dollars assisting the State with their outrageous programs. The ranching community generally claims their independence from the federal government, so why persist in spending money on a program that they, at heart, don’t want?

  4. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    I believe the article had an error when it read “5% of all cattle deaths and 91.8% of all calf deaths were a result of non-predator causes”. According to the USDA link “94.5% of all “cattle deaths” (not 5%) were a result of non-predator causes.

    This EA is a formality the agency must do due to the lawsuit but there is plenty of argument why the INDISCRIMINATE killing of wolves and coyotes does little to reduce predation on livestock and game species.

    Killing of starlings around airports may be justified (for safety purposes), but there are structures that can be installed to reduce the adverse effects of beavers and badgers. These last two species provide beneficial effects to the landscape such as creating wetlands and maintaining a balance in nature by reducing ground squirrel populations.

    I will provide input to the EA but unfortunately having worked for the feds, I believe there is a foregone conclusion that there will be little change to the killing fields.

  5. avatar Janis Green says:

    The Wildlife Services unit of the Agriculture Department should be de-funded and thoroughly investigated for animal cruelty.

    Please watch and share YouTube’s video
    “EXPOSED:USDA’S Secret War on Wildlife”… don’t have a meal shortly before you see it. Also read/share an editorial still available from the New York Times dated 7/18/2013 “Agriculture’s Misnamed Agency”.

    For almost a century Wildlife Services has been killing, maiming and brutalized wildlife. It has to stop. If ranchers lose some stock, that’s just the cost of doing business in predator territory.

  6. avatar DaveJ says:

    There’s too many humans and too few animals.

  7. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    The EA includes the following five alternatives: 1) Status Quo, with additional assistance for IDFG

    2) continues the current PDM program without an increase for assistance to IDFG;

    3) discontinues all Idaho WS involvement in PDM;

    4) Idaho WS is restricted to using only nonlethal PDM methods

    5)Alternative requires that: 1) livestock grazing permittees, landowners or resource managers show evidence of sustained and ongoing use of nonlethal techniques aimed at preventing or reducing predation, prior to receiving assistance with lethal PDM methods from Idaho WS; employees of Idaho WS use or recommend appropriate nonlethal techniques in response to a confirmed damage situation prior to using lethal methods; and lethal techniques be used only when the use of appropriate husbandry or other nonlethal techniques had failed to keep livestock losses below an acceptable level as indicated by the cooperator.

    Alternative 5 is a reasonable alternative that respects both predators and ranchers and will be my recommended alternative in my comment letter. Please consider taking some time to send your comments to APHIS and even though I’m doubtful they will make a difference, it will give you self satisfaction that you tried to make a difference for wolves, coyotes, beavers, foxes and badgers among others.

  8. avatar Joanne Favazza says:

    When did any of us attain the lofty position of being able to decide which beings should live or die? What indeed gives us that perceived right? Is it because our “civilization” is so advanced and superior? Please. One look at the sorry state of affairs on this planet blows that myth completely out of the water. Seriously–who the hell do we think we are?

    Left a comment on the link provided. Wildlife “Services” needs to be abolished, and this culture’s arrogant belief that it is entitled to destroy wildlife and wild places (as well as other “inferior” cultures) for its own selfish gain must be replaced with respect and appreciation for all living beings, both human and non-human.

  9. avatar Stephenie says:

    What’s the point of having government regulated agencies,funded by tax dollars,to protect our dwindling wildlife and their habitat, if they themselves are the most lethal predator these animals face? It’s ludicrous to have supposed agency transparency and assume that what is really being done is adequate and acceptable. Let’s have reality based transparency,let the tax payer know what it is your agency is really doing, driving around in SUV’s, drinking beer and wasting our time and money. The citizens of this country can do a better job enforcing federal and state laws that were voted on to protect our country’s wildlife and their habitats than the organizations in place now.

  10. avatar Edna Gamble says:

    Humans are the only predator in evolution that kill for greed, profit & pleasure. Sad legacy for our species to take thoses that evolved with us to extinction. Soon the only species on public lands will be those farmed for human consumption. Humans needs like a hole to poop in, clothes when we are with others of our species & a box to live in don’t place is at the top of the evolutionary ladder. Mother Earth’s creatures are all necessary & this will be a lonely rodent ridden planet when the only animals alive are farmed to feed us.

  11. avatar Maria Moorat says:

    I am not a US citizen but like many people around the world now know what is being done by so called Wildlife Services. This is not protection.this is not conservation.
    There has been so much research giving proof that it is the variety of wildlife that maintains a balance in the ecosystem.
    The powers that be in Idaho seem to be intent upon eradicating all wild animals. Why?

  12. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    Most of us on this site have condemned Wildlife Services, but now when we have an opportunity to make our voice heard, are we going to just sit on our hands and cry about it?

    The purpose of the EA is for the public to provide input into why a particular alternative should be chosen and NOT to rant about why taxpayer money should not be spent on killing predators to benefit special interests, why humans should decide what lives and dies and many other personal opinions.

    If you chose to provide input, please provide “substantive” comments without emotion and criticism and preferably recommend the decision maker to select Alternative 5 for implementation. As a former 37 year career BLM employee, who worked with decision makers regarding EA’s, I can tell you that emotional comments do NOTHING in regards to which alternative is chosen.

    I would expound on how non-lethal methods have been effective in deterring predation and provide examples such as the L Bar J Ranch in the Centennial Valley in the one of the latest posts and how state agencies such as WDFW and ODFW are successfully working with ranchers in deferring predation. Again this EA is NOT about trophic cascades effects and other benefits that predators provide, but is about the adverse effects of wildlife to the human environment (i.e.livestock and ungulate predation). When writing your comments, think of yourself as the decision maker on why you should select a specific alternative instead of the others.

    Comments are due July 27 and if you choose not to comment, then you must agree with status quo!

  13. avatar Kim Beyer says:

    There certainly has to be a accountability on the wildlife being killed.The numbers killed remains very high but numbers of how many remain the same every year.with so many killed how much wildlife is left by correct numbers.Hunting is not the answer by conservation management its a mess Please overhaul and hold Idaho accountable for the harm done to wolves and other species but wolves are being exterminated as i write this with the remaining wolves numbers are well below 100.The continuance of killing one species to save another is not the answer.Accountability and protection needs to happen.

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