Cases signal that wildlife killing methods may be restrained under the Trump administration, but critical habitat will go unprotected
BOISE, Idaho––Winning a settlement against U.S. government agencies on behalf of furbearing wildlife for the fifth time in six months, Center for Biological Diversity attorney Collette Adkins and co-plaintiffs WildEarth Guardians, the Humane Society of the U.S., and the Fund for Animals on February 28, 2018 barely paused to celebrate.
A biological assessment of the USDA “aquatic mammal damage management” program in Oregon was due that very day, and is now apparently overdue.
Also, deadline was already looming for some or all of the plaintiffs to file a promised case on behalf of the estimated 2,000 Canada lynx scattered across the northern U.S., put at risk by the January 11, 2018 decision of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to begin the process of removing Canada lynx from Endangered Species Act protection.
Cyanide & Compound 1080
Coyotes, wolves, and foxes, among other commonly killed furbearing predators, may get a break from the February 28, 2018 settlement––or may not.
That will depend on the outcome of a study the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is to complete by 2021 on the impact on endangered species, including Canada lynx and grizzly bears, of M-44 “cyanide bombs” and the poison sodium fluoroacetate, better known as Compound 1080.
Initiated in 2011, but abandoned before completion, the study itself is not expected to lead directly to outright bans on M-44s and Compound 1080, long sought by wildlife advocates. However, the science is expected to reinforce a case against them that former U.S. President Richard Nixon, among others, found overwhelmingly persuasive 46 years ago.
What is an M-44?
M-44s, deployed chiefly by USDA Wildlife Services to kill coyotes, are spring-loaded cylinders looking much like a retractable lawn sprinklers.
When licked by a coyote, an M-44 is designed to shoot cyanide into the coyote’s mouth––but, like the .38-cartridge-propelled “coyote getters” that M-44s replaced during the Nixon administration, M-44s are equally deadly against any other animals or humans who disturb them.
Fourteen-year-old Canyon Mansfield was injured, for instance, and his Labrador retriever Casey was killed, when in March 2017 they discovered but did not recognize an M-44 partially protruding from snow on federally-owned land near their home on the outskirts of Pocatello, Idaho.
M-44s were used to kill 12,511 of the 77,000 coyotes killed by USDA Wildlife Services in 2016, the most recent year for which data has been published. The coyotes were killed chiefly in response to predation on about 120,000 sheep.
What is Compound 1080?
Compound 1080 was developed in Germany in 1942, ostensibly as a rodenticide, but was used first to kill human prisoners. Odorless, with no taste, Compound 1080 is lethal if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through skin contact. Apart from Nazi use, at least 13 humans have been killed by Compound 1080 accidents and use as a murder weapon.
Manufactured in the U.S. since 1956 by Tull Chemical of Oxford, Alabama, Compound 1080 was commonly used to kill coyotes until 1972, when Nixon banned it. Nixon did not, however, ban making Compound 1080 for export to other nations, including New Zealand, the current most prolific user in recent decades, and Australia, Israel, Mexico, and South Korea.
In 1985 then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan amended the Nixon order to allow the use of Compound 1080-coated sheep collars. Meant to kill coyotes as they bite the throats of the sheep, the collars also kill Canada lynx, grizzly bears, wolves, and pumas.
USDA Wildlife Services quits using M-44s in Colorado
Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians in November 2017 won agreements similar to the agreement won in Oregon in the states of Colorado and California.
The Colorado agreement, summarized Associated Press writer Matthew Brown, requires USDA Wildlife Services to “re-consider the environmental impacts of M-44s as part of its predator management program.”
However, Brown noted, USDA Wildlife Services spokesperson Tanya Espinosa “said the devices haven’t been used for years on federal or state lands in Colorado, despite an agency study from January that suggested they were allowed on state land.
Espinosa said the inclusion of state lands in that study was unintended. Espinosa’s statement was corroborated by Colorado Parks & Wildlife spokeswoman Lauren Truitt, who said federal workers haven’t used the traps since voters approved an anti-trapping initiative in 1996.”
USDA Wildlife Services also agrees to limit killing methods in California
Four days earlier, USDA Wildlife Services agreed to “stop using aerial gunning, poisons, and other lethal methods to kill wild animals in 16 counties of Northern California while it completes an environmental impact review,” due by December 31, 2023, reported Nicholas Lovino of Courthouse News Service.
The California agreement settled a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in June 2017, citing potential threats to gray wolves, bobcats, and grizzly bears, Lovino summarized. Only bobcats have actually been relatively common California in more than 100 years. However, a lone grey wolf officially identified as OR-7 briefly meandered through the extreme northeast corner of the state in December 2014 and January 2015. Female wolves subsequently birthed litters seen in Siskiyou County in 2015 and Lassen County in 2017.
Impact analysis required
The California settlement came three months after Project Coyote in August 2017 won a California Superior Court ruling that Monterey County had violated the California Environmental Quality Act by entering into an animal damage control contract with USDA Wildlife Services before doing an environmental impact analysis.
Said Project Coyote founder Camilla Fox, “This is a decisive victory for California’s wildlife and for science, as it sends a clear message to USDA Wildlife Services and to entities contracting with them that they must look at the impacts of killing thousands of animals to both target and non-target animals as well as to the environment.”
Beaver, otter, muskrat & mink get a break in Oregon
In Oregon, meanwhile, responding to a November 2017 Center for Biological Diversity notice of intent to sue, USDA Wildlife Services “agreed to analyze the impacts of its ‘aquatic mammal damage management’ program through consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Services under the Endangered Species Act,” announced Western Environmental Law Center communications director Brian Sweeney on January 10, 2018, two weeks after the agreement was actually reached.
Pending completion of the biological assessment and the public consultation process that is to follow publication of the assessment, “Wildlife Services has agreed to stop all its killing of beaver, river otter, muskrat and mink in Oregon,” Sweeney said.
Sparing beaver to save salmon
Elaborated Ben Goldfarb, author of the soon-to-be-published book Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, for High Country News, “The Center for Biological Diversity and its allies charged that the agency has a responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that its beaver-killing isn’t jeopardizing listed salmon. On December 27, 2017 the gambit cleared its first hurdle. Wildlife Services notified the Center for Biological Diversity that it had agreed to consult — and that it would let beavers live while the review progressed.”
If both USDA Wildlife Services and the National Marine Fisheries Service “agree that killing beavers is likely to harm protected fish,” Goldfarb explained, “they’ll undergo a formal consultation that could end with a biological opinion, a document specifying measures for reducing damage to salmon habitat.”
Such measures might parallel rules already in effect in the state of Washington, where USDA Wildlife Services is allowed to trap beaver in agricultural drainage channels, but not along salmon spawning streams.
Benton County takes the lead
Even in advance of publication of the biological assessment that could lead to a biological opinion protecting beaver, otter, muskrat, and mink, Benton County, Oregon on February 6, 2018 introduced an Agricultural & Wildlife Protection Program meant to “fund non-lethal predator and animal damage control to foster the coexistence of agriculture and wildlife,” announced Natural Areas & Parks Department director Laurie Starha.
“Agricultural operations in Benton County that wish to prevent conflicts with wildlife may qualify for up to $5,000 in reimbursement grant funds for the purchase of proactive non-lethal wildlife deterrents to protect livestock and crops,” Starha said.
Benton County, a mid-state rural area west of Corvallis, east of Newport, also continues to participate in conventional USDA Wildlife Services animal damage control programs.
“Anti-wildlife, anti-science, climate-denying”
Despite the recent winning streak in out-of-court settlements, WildEarth Guardians and the Western Environmental Law Center are alarmed about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announcement of intent to begin removing Canada lynx from Endangered Species Act protection in the Lower 48 states, not only because it puts the lynx in evident jeopardy, but also because of what it signals for wildlife and habitat protection under U.S. President Donald Trump.
Charged Western Environmental Law Center communications director Brian Sweeney, “This move by one of the most anti-wildlife, anti-science, climate-denying administrations in American history shows a vicious indifference toward this iconic North American big cat’s continued existence in the Lower 48 states. The species and its habitat are threatened by climate change, logging, development, motorized access and trapping, which disturb and fragment the snow cat’s habitat. Canada lynx rely heavily on snowshoe hare, and like their preferred prey, are specially adapted to living in mature boreal forests with dense cover and deep snowpack.”
Species status assessment “significantly altered”
Of most concern, Sweeney explained, the “final Species Status Assessment” published by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on January 11, 2018 “is significantly altered from the Service’s December 2016 draft.”
In particular, the December 2016 draft concluded that, “We believe that lynx populations and habitats will decline over time largely as a result of continued climate warming and associated impacts. Because resident lynx populations are expected to be smaller and more fragmented and isolated in the future,” the draft authors wrote, “we believe it is very unlikely that resident lynx populations will persist through the end of this century in all of the geographic units that currently support them.”
The “final Species Status Assessment” concludes that “Despite some reduced resiliency, we conclude that resident lynx populations are very likely to persist” wherever Canada lynx are now found, despite acknowledging loss of habitat in five of the six regions where Canada lynx are now found.
The “final Species Status Assessment” gave Canada lynx a 50% chance of survival to the year 2100 in northern Maine, home to about half of the U.S. continental population; a 35% chance of survival in northeastern Minnesota, where an estimated 100 to 300 Canada lynx dwell; a 78% chance of survival in northwestern Montana and southeastern Idaho, with an estimated regional lynx population of 300; a 38% chance of survival in the state of Washington, now believed to harbor barely 50 lynx; a 15% change of survival in the Greater Yellowstone region, where no lynx have been seen in five years; and a 50% chance of survival in western Colorado, inhabited by about 100 lynx.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Montana in 2014 ruled that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had violated the Endangered Species Act by failing for 12 years to prepare a Canada lynx recovery plan for lynx.
Recalled Sweeney, “The court ordered the Service to complete a recovery plan or make a determination that a recovery plan will not promote lynx conservation by January 15, 2018.”
“Lynx worse off than when originally listed”
Elaborated Western Environmental Law Center attorney Matthew Bishop, “The best science tells us that lynx are worse off than they were when originally listed [as endangered] in 2000 – we’re seeing lower numbers, more range contraction, and now understand the significant threats posed by climate change. This, however, was all papered over by the administration just in time to shirk its legal obligation to issue a lynx recovery plan.”
Concluded WildEarth Guardians wildlife program director Bethany Cotton, “Saving lynx from extinction is not aligned with the Trump administration’s climate-denial and emphasis on maximizing resource extraction on public lands.”
The Western Environmental Law Center and WildEarth Guardians pledged to challenge the “final Species Status Assessment” for Canada lynx in court.