Forest Service plan a threat to wilderness
July 13, 2006
The U.S. Forest Service may soon allow poisons and all-terrain vehicles into wilderness areas in order to control “problem” predators. This is nothing short of a threat to the wilderness – and the lofty ideals that motivate us to preserve it – and may well endanger other animals.Under a proposed new rule, the Forest Service may allow officers with the federal Wildlife Services Division of the Animal and Plant Health Inspections Service to enter designated wilderness areas and kill problem predators, such as a coyote that’s preying on livestock. Predator control itself is nothing new or dramatic. But the proposed rule would expand the ways that the officers can do their job – to use aircraft, motor vehicles, poisons and pesticides in their pursuit of coyotes, mountain lions, wolves and other predators.Forest Service officials say this won’t happen often, that predator control is already rare in wilderness areas and the tactics will only be used in extreme cases. But if predator control in wilderness areas is so rare, then what is the burning need to change the rules?Places like the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness are federally designated sanctuaries where the noise of belching engines and the glint of motorized steel is not allowed. The idea of designating wilderness is to let nature flourish and to offer peace and quiet to the occasional human visitor. Once the door of mechanization opens, however slightly, who can say where it will stop? How long until Forest Service officials want to use chain saws to clear deadfall and ATVs to haul signposts into the remote high country?If, for example, wilderness users accept that cattle are an established part of the experience on the Capitol Lake trail, will they now also have to accept the occasional ATV or poison trap as a means of protecting that livestock from predators?And what if other wildlife or domestic pets get curious about such traps? Poison is poison, after all; it kills indiscriminately.This proposal is a risky solution to a small problem. The dangers outweigh the benefits, if in fact there really are any benefits. Perhaps the public can trust White River National Forest officials to use these more aggressive methods cautiously. But why even open the door?This rule is a bad idea, and we urge everyone to make that clear to the Forest Service. The public is invited to comment until Aug. 7, and comments can be e-mailed to PDM@fs.fed.us, faxed to (202) 205-1145, or mailed to USDA Forest Service Director of Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers, 201 14th St. Southwest, Washington, D.C., 20250.