In Nevada nowadays it is all the rage to blame predators for habitat problems created by overgrazing by livestock. That is clearly illustrated in an article published in the Elko Daily News which describes the efforts that the State of Nevada has undertaken under pressure from livestock groups cleverly disguised as hunting groups.

Rather than deal with the fact that livestock and the infrastructure built to support livestock are the underlying cause of the increased numbers of ravens across much of the Great Basin, these groups have pressured the Nevada Division of Wildlife to kill ravens rather than reduce livestock impacts.

Livestock grazing in the desert Great Basin has dramatically increased the number of ravens by creating places for them to nest, water supplies, perches for them to use to find sage grouse nests, and food in the form of dead cattle. Ravens do prey on sage grouse nests but they wouldn’t be such a concern if there weren’t so many other subsidies for them. They would control their own numbers.

Livestock grazing, by removing the residual grass cover that hides the nests from predators such as ravens, makes it easier for the nests to be detected.

Of course, rather than making livestock producers pay for the impacts, they are externalizing the costs and charging hunters an extra fee for predator control. Predator control that wouldn’t be needed if livestock weren’t being grazed in areas where they are not appropriate.

About The Author

Ken Cole

Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project. We do not accept unsolicited “guest” authors or advertising.

22 Responses to Killing ravens to save livestock grazing, not sage grouse

  1. avatar Ellen Mass says:

    it is so frustrating to hear that livestock ranchers are the driving force behind killing wildlife. it seems like they are almost given a ‘carte blanche’ to do whatever they wish under the guise of raising animals for human use. I like meat, don’t get me wrong, but I would much rather pay a bit more for my beef if it meant that the wildlife (either predators or other prey animals) was assured a place to live. I wish there was more us ‘common folk’ could do! apparently faxes, emails and phone calls don’t do anything.

  2. avatar Salle says:

    If you “love meat”, please consider this:

    The Hidden Costs of Hamburgers
    Rising rate of meat production worldwide threatens to mess up our climate, land, and water big time

  3. avatar Ralph Maughan says:

    Just as with the article on domestic cats hunting small mammals — predators that in the suburbs hunt on top of a human food subsidy (as the article linked by JB points out), rural ravens are in a similar situation.

    They have a human food subsidy in the form of dead cattle, an animal that had no prehistoric counterpart in what is now Nevada.

    I would like to find a scientific article on the effects of this subsidy to ravens on the total ecology of Great Basin and Mojave Deserts of Nevada.

  4. avatar Mike says:

    Shocker. Ranchers and hunters screwing up the ecosystem with bullets again.

    Who could’ve guessed?

    • avatar Salle says:

      Hey, in the minds of many, it’s the emerikin way. Never forget how sacred the cow is out here.

  5. avatar Jeff says:

    Ravens are the latest scapegoat of the ranching community for the fall of sage grouse numbers. I saw a Rangeland Article being quoted that attributed the largest number of grouse nest destruction to ravens. However, I also recently read an article talking about the historic scarcity of ravens in the sage steppe of the West. With settlement perches were created in areas where their never were any which invited in ravens, combine this with overgrazing which makes nests more visible and voila…the raven gets thrown under the bus.

  6. avatar Salle says:

    And don’t forget the chaining of the pinion forests where this is taking place. Chaining is the term for land destruction used to make this pinion forest useable for grazing.

  7. avatar smalltownID says:

    Although cattlemen have definitely run with the raven nest depredation data provided by Coates et al, pointing to cattle as a major subsidy for ravens is misleading.

    Ravens, like humans, are difficult to pigeon-hole. Of 17 Sharp-tailed grouse nest failures recorded on camera in southern Idaho the last 2 years, 2 were because of Ravens.

    • avatar Ken Cole says:

      How so? Dead livestock, which are not an uncommon presence on the landscape, especially in the arid, flat landscapes that sage grouse prefer, provide a lot of food for ravens. The fences, troughs, windmills for pumps, and other livestock infrastructure provide perches, water, and nesting opportunity that wouldn’t otherwise be on the landscape. With the removal of residual grass cover which helps hide nests and chicks and the constant flushing of nests which clue the ravens into their location, the livestock people have set up quite a good system for ravens.

      • avatar Ken Cole says:

        I’ve also seen ravens tipping over cow flop in search of insects.

        • avatar smalltownID says:

          Ken, it is one small subsidy of so many provided by humans – it pales in comparison to road kill, ag fields, waste stations, and general garbage that people leave behind at recreation sites, homes, and along roads.

  8. avatar smalltownID says:

    I’d highly recommend Bernd Heinrich’s “Mind of the Raven” for anyone interested in this topic.

    • avatar Immer Treue says:

      I’d highly recommend Bernd Heinrich’s “Mind of the Raven” for anyone interested in this topic.

      I’d put a highly favorable, I’ll second that, to Heinrichs “Mind of the Raven”.

      What I intended to add to the conversation about ravens in particular and predators in general, but is it their intelligence, an animal so highly tuned to its own ecological niche, rather than their knack for competing with us, a philosophical jealousy, that leads to so many unfavorable attitudes?

  9. avatar aves says:

    A similar ill-advised tact has been taken with “conserving” desert tortoises. Ravens have been drawn to new habitat based on human dwellings, garbage, and habitat alteration. The ravens then prey on tortoise hatchlings and therefore have been made a scapegoat for our own stupidity. Instead of dealing with the human activity that attracted ravens to begin with focus on killing ravens.

    This kind of nonsense is to be expected from those who are actually the most responsible for the decline of threatened species. The disturbing thing is the acceptance by the goverment agencies who eat it up. Political pressures aside, I have seen a widespread decline in common sense and foresight amongst the USFWS and other government agencies when it comes to wildlife conservation over the last decade.

    • avatar louise kane says:

      “This kind of nonsense is to be expected from those who are actually the most responsible for the decline of threatened species. The disturbing thing is the acceptance by the goverment agencies who eat it up. Political pressures aside, I have seen a widespread decline in common sense and foresight amongst the USFWS and other government agencies when it comes to wildlife conservation over the last decade.”

      well stated Aves

  10. While we are arguing about cows and ravens, the sage grouse are disappearing. I would support a reduction of ravens, coupled with monitoring of sage grouse nests and hatchlings to see if less ravens means more sage grouse.
    I watched a raven grab and swallow a young robin sitting in a garden. They are very hard on the young of all birds in their territory.
    If we have to wait for cow numbers to be reduced, the sage grouse and many other species of wildlife will be gone long before the cows are.

  11. avatar smalltownID says:

    Actually Larry, numbers are on the rise looking at short-term population trends in S Idaho (generally speaking) with a high amount of production the last 2 years. The fires may put a damper on that though, especailly the flat top fire.

    Aves slightly touches on a point that efforts need to be made to not only reduce Raven numbers but minimize the way in which we provide food and housing for these animals. There is a lot of great research out there on perch deterrent devices for power lines/poles, nest habitat modeling of ravens, the importance of bachelor groups increasing fitness through cultural transmission, not to mention the plethora of sage-grouse research. Information that needs to be widely disseminated and applied.

  12. avatar Ryan says:

    While it would be nice to completely change our trash habits/daily habits to reduce raven numbers.. Its not realistic to eliminate perches on telephone poles, level buildings, and to have everyone ride bicycles to minimize road kill.

    The reality is that this is no different than killing rats/mice that infest your house or shooting feral cats. There is a much bigger issue, but the only feasible realisic solution is the treat the symptom at this time.

  13. avatar smalltownID says:

    Ok, let me get this straight Ryan. It is not realistic to treat the symptom “[reduce] perches on telephone poles” and other raven subsidies {from your 1st paragraph}, but the only feasible realistic solution is to treat the symptom at this time {2nd paragraph}?

    Sounds like a total contradiction and you have no clue how much research and funding is available to incorporate tools that are proven (yes, proven) to reduce the subsidies we provide. Are you saying in jest the only feasible solution is to shoot and poison ravens?


August 2012


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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