Danger to “Threatened” Wildlife Species, Children, and Non-Target Wildlife
Washington, DC — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan for killing wildlife that prey on livestock in Colorado is a dangerous and misguided, according to public comments released today by a coalition of environmental groups. The USDA is planning to spend at least $1 million in Colorado in the coming year to “manage” over 3,000 coyotes, black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and foxes and other native carnivores for the benefit of the livestock industry.
The USDA plan for “Predator Damage Management in Colorado” would be administered by one of its bureaus called Wildlife Services. According to the environmental coalition, the predator plan for Colorado has serious drawbacks, including—
- Inadequate mitigation measures to protect lynx and wolves and other species of special concern;
- Wildlife Services’ failure to analyze impacts from their program to migratory birds (such as raptors including California condors, bald and golden eagles) and grasslands species (including prairie dogs, burrowing owls, and mountain plovers);
- Excessive loss of so called “non-target” wildlife from indiscriminate lethal control methods including poisons, traps, and aerial gunning; and
- Inadequate safeguards against children and household pets being accidentally poisoned by sodium cyanide baits aimed at luring canids.
“We had hoped that the new Wildlife Services’ plan would begin to place some emphasis on employing more non-lethal controls, especially now that lynx and wolves have begun to return to the state,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of the carnivore protection program for Sinapu. “Wildlife Services would better serve the public and the livestock industry if the agency put significant revenues into educating people, rather than killing wildlife.”
The coalition also argues that the plan is based on faulty biological premises about native carnivores. The groups further contend that USDA is ignoring non-lethal means of predator management, such as using fences, electronic devices, and guard animals that are more cost-effective and less destructive than killing thousands of carnivores annually, or endangering people with poisons and airborne hunting campaigns.
“Colorado provides essential breeding habitat for mountain plovers, ferruginous hawks, burrowing owls, and other birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” said Dr. Lauren McCain of Forest Guardians. “Grassland birds are in trouble throughout their range, and Wildlife Services is putting these animals—who are vulnerable to secondary poisoning—in harms way.”
The USDA Wildlife Services program is extended at no or nominal charge to livestock growers who complain of livestock losses, which are minimal. Livestock operators lose many times more cattle and sheep to weather, disease, and birthing problems in comparison to predation, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). In Colorado, only 13.3% of sheep and 3.3% of lambs (NASS, May 2000), and .9% of cattle and 5.8% of calves (NASS, March 1997) are killed by native wildlife.
“These numbers could be reduced significantly through responsible animal husbandry practices,” said Keefover-Ring.
“Using non-lethal controls would also prevent unintended mishaps with the public,” added Chandra Rosenthal of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). “In Colorado, family pets have died from sodium cyanide, and in one instance, a child was potentially exposed to this toxic agent, which resulted in a lawsuit and a $10,000 settlement agreement paid by the USDA.”
The coalition of commenting organizations consists of Sinapu, Forest Guardians, Center for Native Ecosystems, and PEER.