Defenders, Wolf Recovery Foundation, other groups blast Forest Service proposed changes on predator control in the National Wilderness Preservation System (designated Wilderness)

8-7-2006


Defenders of Wildlife, the Wolf Recovery Foundation and ten other groups today submitted comments on the U.S. Forest Services' proposed new regulations governing predator damage management in designated Wilderness area around the United States.

Our comments are attached as a pdf file. Let me offer an explanation about what is going on.

When a bill becomes law (that is a statute) it usually requires an agency to administer the law. To spell out the details of how the bill will be carried out, the agency engages in "rule-making." These rules are often controversial and courts reject them if they violate the law that authorizes them. From time-to-time agencies can also revoke, modify, or add new regulations as long as the underlying law is not violated.

Rule-making must be open to the public.

First comes a proposed rule, published in the Federal Register. Later comes the final rule (unless the agency decides not to go forward due to public comments or other concerns). After the final rules those who think the law has been violated can sue in federal district court.

What is happening here?

The Wilderness Act of 1964 is regarded by many as one of best laws ever passed. Like other laws, the Forest Service quickly issued rules and regulations filling in the details as to how they would carry out the law.

One of the great things about the Wilderness Act was that it provided a measure of protection for predators like grizzly bears and cougar, which at the time were greatly persecuted by the federal agency Animal Damage Control (now renamed Wildlife Services). Predator control was to be minimal in Wilderness. Livestock grazing was grandfathered in Wilderness, but amount of grazing grandfathered was small compared to most public land. Grazing was a price that had to paid to get the Wilderness Act passed.

The currents rules for predator control in Forest Service managed Wilderness say this [boldface mine]:

[Forest Service manual] 2323.33c - Predator Control. Predacious mammals and birds play a critical role in maintaining the integrity of natural ecosystems. Consider the benefits of a predator species in the ecosystem before approving control actions. The Regional Forester may approve predator control programs on a case-by-case basis where control is necessary to protect federally listed threatened or endangered species, to protect public health and safety, or to prevent serious losses of domestic livestock. Focus control methods on offending individuals and under conditions that ensure minimum disturbance to the wilderness resource and visitors. Poison baits or cyanide guns are not acceptable. Poison bait collars may be approved.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or approved State agencies shall carry out control programs. The Forest Service is responsible for determining the need for control, the methods to be used, and approving all proposed predator damage control programs in wilderness (FSM 2650). Only approve control projects when strong evidence exists that removing the offending individual(s) will not diminish the wilderness values of the area.

The new rules say this [dangerous language in boldface]


2323.33c--Predator Damage Management For further direction on predator damage management, see FSM 2651. For a copy of the Master Memorandum of Understanding between the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services (APHIS-WS) and Forest Service, see FSM 1543.13.

1. Objectives. The objectives of predator damage management in wilderness are to:

a. Protect public health and safety.
b. Protect Federally listed threatened or endangered species.
c. Achieve management goals and objectives for wildlife populations as identified for wilderness in forest or wilderness plans, or through other collaborative processes, such as Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategies, memorandums of understanding with State fish and wildlife agencies, and so forth.
d. Prevent serious loss of domestic livestock.

2. Policy.

a. Predator damage management activities shall be conducted in a manner that protects wilderness character and minimizes disturbances to wilderness resources and visitors.
b. Predator damage management control measures shall be directed at the offending animal or local population and shall not jeopardize the continued viability of predator populations in the ecosystem.
c. Predator damage management work plans shall be developed in cooperation with the APHIS-WS for specific wildernesses or for a network of wildernesses and non-wilderness lands that connect them and reviewed annually in cooperation with APHIS-WS.
d. When participating in the development and annual review of a predator damage management work plan in a wilderness area, Forest Service officers shall strongly discourage the use of poison baits, such as M-44 devices and livestock protection collars, except in specific cases where there is compelling evidence that other forms of predator damage management have proven to be ineffective.
e. Forest Service officials shall coordinate and cooperate with other government entities who have responsibility and expertise for managing predator damage, such as the APHIS-WS and State fish and game agencies.
f. The role of predator species in contributing to the ecological integrity of wilderness and adjacent non-wilderness lands shall be recognized in predator damage management work plans and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) documents.

3. Authorization Responsibility for Specific Uses:

a. Landing of aircraft and use of motorized equipment and mechanical transport to facilitate implementation of predator damage management activities in wilderness areas may only occur if authorized by the Regional Forester upon a determination that these uses are necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area. Determination of necessity is appropriate where:
(1) An emergency situation requires immediate, short-term relief, or
(2) An analysis indicates that one of these uses is the minimum tool necessary to accomplish the predator damage management activity.
b. The Regional Forester may authorize use of pesticides for predator damage management activities when documented on Form FS-2100- 2, Pesticide Use Proposal (FSM2150).

4. Inter-Agency Coordination With the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services. The Forest Service recognizes APHIS-WS's authority and expertise for conducting predator damage management activities on National Forest System (NFS) wildernesses. Forest Service employees shall, when coordinating with APHIS-WS on proposed predator damage management activities in wilderness, ensure that these activities support the Forest Service's objectives (para. 1) and policies (para. 2) for predator damage management in wilderness areas.

a. Predator Damage Management Plans. The Forest Service shall participate with the APHIS-WS in preparation of their predator damage management work plans for wilderness areas. Predator damage management work plans shall be reviewed and updated annually.
b. Preparation of National Environmental Policy Act Documents. The Forest Service shall cooperate with the APHIS-WS in the preparation of environmental analyses for predator damage management activities as required by the NEPA, Title 40, Code of Federal Regulations, section 1501.6, and the Memorandum of Understanding between the APHIS-WS and the Forest Service, dated June 4, 2004 (FSM 1543.13). As a cooperating agency, the Forest Service shall:
(1) Make agency expertise regarding wildlife, wilderness, range, and other staff areas available to the APHIS-WS during the NEPA process. As a minimum, Forest Service participation during the NEPA process shall involve agency experts knowledgeable in wilderness, wildlife, and range management.
(2) Assist in identifying issues; conducting and evaluating public scoping; developing alternatives; and disclosing environmental, economic, and social effects.
(3) Work with the APHIS-WS to ensure decision documents address Forest Service concerns when proposed actions would have an adverse effect upon the wilderness resource and/or the continued viability of native species.
(4) Seek expertise from State fish and wildlife agencies as appropriate.
c. Conflict Resolution. When a Forest Service representative determines that a proposed management activity may have an adverse affect on wilderness resources or the continued viability of a native species, the Forest Service representative shall work with their APHIS- WS counterpart to resolve the Forest Service's concern. If the dispute cannot be resolved, the issue shall be elevated to the next organizational level within each agency.

5. Coordination with State Governments and Private Individuals.

The Forest Service recognizes that State agencies have authority and expertise to conduct predator damage management on NFS lands, including wilderness, and that State agencies and private individual may perform predator damage management on NFS lands when conducted in accordance with applicable State and Federal laws, regulations, and policies. The Forest Service shall coordinate and cooperate with States and private individuals when predator damage management is conducted under State authority to ensure that wilderness resources on NFS lands are protected.

In sum, the proposed rules greatly elevate Wildlife Services (WS) to where the Forest Service is compelled to share authority with them in the gems of the Forest Service, the Wilderness areas. This is, a great cession of power to an agency that has a long history of hostility to predatory wildlife and to any wildlife that inconveniences agriculture.

The rules also facilitate the use of poison and the shooting of predators from aircraft, and a change from a case-by-case approach to the removal of entire local populations of predators.

It also cedes authority to "collaborative groups," an undefined term that can mean a gaggle of local politicians and their pals. Although I am just poking fun at how vague the term is, terrorists fit the term "collaborative group"

In the past all predator control has been directed at livestock losses. The new rules promote government killing of some wildlife to increase other wildlife, a manipulation entirely contrary to the notion of Wilderness.

A lot of people think that much of the sudden motivation for this comes from the elevation of Idaho's former governor Dirk Kempthorne to Secretary of Interior. Although the Forest Service and WS are in the Dept. of Agriculture, these departments cooperate. It might be that the entire Wilderness System is now subject to being compromised so that WS can gun down wolves from the air in Idaho's Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in response the Clearwater Elk Plan (a local "collaborative group's" idea of how to increase elk in the Clearwater drainage with which many big game biologists disagree).

Attached as a pdf file are our comments:

Comments-

Note. We have heard that the comment period might be extended 30 days. The announcement may be on August 8-9, 2006.


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Ralph Maughan PO Box 8264, Pocatello, ID 83209
Wolf Recovery Foundation; PO Box 444, Pocatello, ID 83204