Controlling predators: Wildlife Services sees little impact from suit
WildEarth Guardians, an environmental activist group, claimed a win over Wildlife Services when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed that WildEarth Guardians’ interests are injured by the program’s activities.
However, Peter Orwick, executive director of the American Sheep Industry Association, says their statements were embellished on the success of the suit.
“WildEarth Guardians are just rabid opponents of Wildlife Services,” he says. “They oppose the program, and they put out an incredibly misleading press release on the court actions in Nevada.”
The Ninth Circuit Court ruling, Orwick explains, referred to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents that referenced a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) from 1994.
In an Oct. 12 statement, Wildlife Services Deputy Administrator William Clay said, “In the 21 years since the PEIS Record of Decision was issued, Wildlife Services has initiated the phase-out of any reliance on the 1994 PEIS. Today, most Wildlife Services NEPA documents are not tiered to the PEIS. No new Wildlife Services NEPA documents signed after the date of this notice will be tiered to the 1994 PEIS.”
Clay added, “In the future, Wildlife Services intends to revise or redo all of its NEPA documents that are currently tiered to the 1994 PEIS.”
Orwick comments, “To my knowledge, that was the only reference to the 1994 PEIS,” he says. “That PEIS was a big deal, but it’s well over 20 years old now, and now, instead of doing a national EIS like the 1994 one, Wildlife Services is doing site-specific EIS’ that go by district, state or site to manage their wildlife mitigation and control.”
“WildEarth Guardians took Wildlife Service to court, and the court said they needed to update the EIS,” Orwick adds. “Wildlife Services said, ‘Of course. We’re updating it now, just as we have all over the country.’”
Site specific work
Wildlife Services has been working for the last several years to conduct site-specific, state-specific or area-specific EIS documents for their activities.
“Despite what WildEarth Guardians said in their press release, they just happened to find one of the rare documents that was addressed,” he says. “Wildlife Services has assured us that they continually update their NEPA documents.”
Orwick continues, “In my opinion, the folks who work on NEPA at Wildlife Services are probably some of the best in the federal government. They have over 25 years of experience, and I’m impressed with the work they do.”
Orwick also notes that Wildlife Services is very beneficial for producers who run on federal lands, as well, by providing the NEPA documents that allow grazers to use predator control, as well.
“The agency does the NEPA, which allows individuals to use grazing permits with predator control,” he explains. “That makes their work doubly important for ranchers.”
“It is discouraging to read that WildEarth Guardians is portraying this ruling as prohibiting work on public lands when in reality the only area in Nevada that is not active is some wilderness area,” Orwick says. Orwick adds that he anticipates there was no predator work for livestock producers on wilderness anyway.
On the ground
In Wyoming, Wildlife Services updated their EIS in 2015, and Amy Hendrickson, Wyoming Wool Growers Association executive director, says, “Predators are certainly a very significant part of the losses that producers have, in addition to death loss from disease and other causes.”
Hendrickson continues, “In 2015, predator losses were down to just under five percent, but they have been as high as 10 percent. No business can stay in production if they are taking a 10 percent loss. It just can’t be sustained.”
Wildlife Services helps producers to control predator populations, including coyotes, wolves, ravens and foxes.
“We lease our two airplanes to Wildlife Services to use in controlling coyotes and other predators,” Hendrickson explains. “Wildlife Services is also the only agency that can help with wolf depredation. They are the only agency who can take a wolf once it is verified that the wolf is the cause of livestock loss.”
“Predators are the number two biggest expense in the sheep industry as a whole,” Orwick mentions. “We do everything we can to control predators.”
He adds, “It doesn’t matter where we run livestock today, ranchers deal with some wildlife issue. It’s a constant almost nationwide anymore.”
A decrease in death loss to predators from 10 down to five percent in Wyoming is largely attributable to the work of Wildlife Services, as well as predator management districts and the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board (ADMB).
Hendrickson adds that when she visits with people who have formerly raised sheep, one of the reasons they exited the industry was because of predator losses.
“A lot of times when I talk to people, they say, ‘We had sheep, but the predators just killed me. I couldn’t stay in business,’” she explains. “Many people cite predators as the reason they are no longer in the sheep business.”
“We also have to remember that is isn’t just the livestock that benefit from the work of Wildlife Services,” Hendrickson says. “Wildlife benefit, as well. Control of coyotes and wolves helps our mule deer, antelope, elk and sage grouse populations, as well. It is very important to our state to be able to control predators.”
She adds, “We don’t want to wipe out wolves, coyotes or other predators. We just want to maintain a good balance.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org