Sheep-killing coyotes facing death sentence
Your tax dollars will soon help pay for the killing of coyotes accused of destroying lambs and sheep at a privately owned ranch north of Eagle.
A federal agency called Wildlife Services will soon begin killing the animals near the Piney Valley Ranches Trust of McCoy. The targeted coyotes live on federal land that is presently under consideration for designation as a wilderness area.
The “predator control work” is being paid for in part by a livestock association called Consolidated Wool Growers, but the agency’s work in the state is funded largely with federal tax money.
Ewes at Piney Valley Ranches give birth to their lambs on the ranch property, but the flocks spend the warm months of the year on land leased from the Bureau of Land Management. Part of that land is within the Castle Peak Wilderness Study Area, which is included in a wilderness bill submitted by Representative Diana DeGette earlier this year.
Wildlife Services has completed an environmental assessment that covers all of its work in Western Colorado. But environmental activists claim the document is incomplete because it does not discuss whether the killing of wild animals is appropriate in federal wilderness areas and wilderness study areas.
“We feel like the killing of wildlife is inconsistent with wilderness values,” said Pete Kolbenschlag, West Slope Field Coordinator for the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “I think a lot of people find it unpalatable that taxpayers are paying for killing of wildlife on public lands. The cost of killing Wildlife Services, formerly known as Animal Damage Control, or ADC, spends over $20 million on livestock protection in 17 Western states. Methods used by the agency include shooting animals from airplanes and helicopters, trapping, and using devices called M-44s that shoot sodium cyanide poison into the mouth of a predator attracted to bait.
Wildlife Services works on both public and private lands at the request of ranchers. Trapping and M-44s are illegal on federal lands, but aerial gunning is currently legal.
Craig Coolahan, the director of Wildlife Services in Colorado, said the average cost of a single project is $48,000, just to “put a man in the field” for a full year. A contract with a livestock association may involve only a partial year’s work.
If any flying is involved, the cost is additional. Coolahan said the work for Piney Valley Ranches is under the contract with Consolidated Wool Growers, and he couldn’t say how much would be spent.
David Moreno, Wildlife Services’ district supervisor for Western Colorado, said it will cost about $100 per hour for the type of aircraft that will be used during the Piney Valley Ranches project. He estimated that the agency may spend as much as 15 hours flying before the project is completed. Who pays? Coolahan said his policy for Wildlife Services work in Colorado is that half the cost is to be paid by the entity requesting the service, usually either a county or a livestock association.
When the request comes from a livestock association, the agency is generally working for individual members of the organization, he said. When an individual contacts the agency, Wildlife Services usually charges that person 100 percent of the cost of the service.
But figures from Wildlife Service’s Washington, D.C., office show that the agency doesn’t receive anywhere near half the cost from its Colorado clients. In 1997, the last year for which figures are available, Wildlife Services spent $892,660 for livestock protection statewide in Colorado. Of that amount, $680,164, or 76 percent, came from federal Department of Agriculture appropriations.
Only $169,376 (19 percent) came from organizations and $32,691 (4 percent) came from counties. About 1 percent, $9,263, came from individuals.
These figures were provided by Predator Project, an environmental research and advocacy group in Bozeman, Mont. Staff member David Gaillard said nationwide the agency spends about two-thirds of its congressional appropriation on livestock protection, while about 7 percent of its federal money is spent on human health and safety projects, such as preventing collisions between birds and aircraft. Alternatives better, some say Kolbenschlag, of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said his group doesn’t believe the environmental assessment adequately studied the effects of aerial hunting in wilderness and wilderness study areas.
Coolahan said public comment is not allowed on individual Wildlife Services projects. He said the EA is reviewed every year within the agency. If any staff suggestions are actually adopted as changes, then public comment is allowed. He said he doesn’t know when that will happen.
Kolbenschlag said alternatives to killing wildlife exist, including paying ranchers directly for livestock lost to coyotes and other predators. But he’s checked with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the agency that would make such compensation, and no money has been paid to Piney Valley Ranches.
Beverly Compton, a board member of the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, said using Wildlife Services often costs the American public three to five times as much as simply reimbursing ranchers for their losses. She said nonlethal methods, such as guard dogs, llamas or riders patrolling the fields should be used to prevent livestock depredation before aerial hunting, trapping or poisoning is used.
“They need to do the proactive stuff before they start spending taxpayers’ money,” Compton said. But do alternatives work? Coolahan said Wildlife Services doesn’t require ranchers to use alternative methods.
“We don’t have a bunch of guard dogs we can take out and give to people,” he said. “We have no authority to insist that other methods are tried.”
District Supervisor Moreno said Piney Valley does in fact use guard dogs and herders as well as fences, but to no avail.
A call last week to Piney Valley Ranches yielded a promise to have a knowledgeable person call The Aspen Times, but no one called back. Ranch foreman Dennis Winn, who applied for assistance from Wildlife Services, is said to be working in Utah. Further calls to the ranch were not answered.
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