Deadline for Wolf comments is coming up – 5/14!
In Part 1 on Friday, 4/26, we asked you to write a comment to prevent the Trump Administration from removing Endangered Species Act protections from wolves and declaring open season of an animal that is still functionally extinct in much of its former range. (Why? See Part 2, below) Please join in and share! There are currently only 55,000 comments.
In Part 2, below, we ask our own government to stop killing them, along with millions of other animals, with our tax dollars.
Part 2 – How much of your tax money goes to snuffing wildlife? Or “How much does a burger cost, really?”
The USDA Wildlife Services spends over $100 million a year to exterminate over 2.3 million native and wild animals a year at the request of ranchers who bring us “cheap” hamburgers. Their targets are usually predators like wolves, coyotes, bobcats, bears, and mountains lions, but the collateral damage includes thousands of non-target animals and birds, including endangered species and household pets, who are trapped or poisoned by mistake. Even people have been injured when they’ve accidently triggered spring-loaded M-44 cyanide cartridges meant to kill coyotes.
A growing body of research has found the agency’s war to protect livestock against predators is altering ecosystems in ways that diminish biodiversity, degrade habitat and invite disease. The public’s attitude towards wild animals has also evolved. “People want to see bears. They want to see wolves. They want to see mountain lions. It’s part of the natural heritage of the United States. We should be stewards of the system, not wiping out species and damaging ecosystems.” – Michael Mares, president of the American Society of Mammalogists.
Action #1 – Vote “YES” on HR 2471/S 1301 – Ban sodium cyanide and Compound 1080 poisons for predator control.
In 2014, a bill was introduced to ban one of Wildlife Services’ most controversial and brutal killing methods: spring-loaded sodium cyanide cartridges along with the less commonly used Compound 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate). It didn’t pass then. Let’s try again. These poisons indiscriminately and painfully kill animals throughout our ecosystem and can injure people as well.
Call – Minimum script: I’m calling from [zip code] and I want Rep./ Sens. [___] to cosponsor (Rep.) H.R.2471/(Sen.) S.1301 – a bill to prohibit the use of the poisons sodium fluoroacetate (known as “Compound 1080”) and sodium cyanide for predator control.
- H.R.2471 Rep-check here: (Neither Reps. Brownley nor Carbajal are cosponsors yet. CALL!)
- S.1301 Sen-Check here. (Neither Sens. Feinstein nor Harris are cosponsors yet. CALL!)
Action #2 – Ask our legislators to refocus Wildlife Services
Email or call – Minimum script: I’m calling from [zip code] and I want Rep/Sen. [___] to introduce legislation that protects wild animals in the public trust from the ecosystem-destroying demands of the livestock industry. It should accomplish the following:
- Stop the USDA Wildlife Services from using or allowing the use of lethal force for livestock protection against native and wild animals, including the use of poisons and traps.
- Redirect funds to help ranchers transition to non-lethal management strategies, including training and government oversight.
- Require federal grazing land lease holders to employ active monitoring – range riders, shepherds and guard animals – as a contract condition.
- Require federal grazing land lease holders to commit to using non-lethal “predator management” practices as a contract condition.
- Require federal grazing land lease holders to maintain range health with active land management, including land “retirement” as a contract condition.
- Change fees for grazing use to a sliding scale up to matching private land fees, eliminating taxpayer subsidies for wealthy cattle owners.
- End predator killing contests, trophy hunting and trapping and “denning“.
Rep. Julia Brownley: email, (CA-26): DC (202) 225-5811, Oxnard (805) 379-1779, T.O. (805) 379-1779
or Rep. Salud Carbajal: email, (CA-24): DC (202) 225-3601, SB (805) 730-1710 SLO (805) 546-8348
Senator Feinstein: email, DC (202) 224-3841, LA (310) 914-7300, SF (415) 393-0707, SD (619) 231-9712, Fresno (559) 485-7430
and Senator Harris: email, DC (202) 224-3553, LA (213) 894-5000, SAC (916) 448-2787, Fresno (559) 497-5109, SF (415) 355-9041, SD (619) 239-3884
Who’s my representative/senator?: https://whoismyrepresentative.com
Background – What!?!
How did all this start? In 1915, Congress, hoping to increase beef production for World War I, allocated $125,000 to exterminate wolves, starting in Nevada. The “Branch of Predator and Rodent Control” officially began under the Animal Damage Control Act of 1931, which gave the new agency broad authority and limited oversight. Federal trappers dropped strychnine out of airplanes, shot eagles from helicopters, laced carcasses of dead animals with Compound 1080, a poison notorious for killing non-target species, and slaughtered coyotes, wolves, mountain lions and grizzly bears across the West. Over the decades, it has been responsible for killing millions of predators, helping to wipe out gray wolves and grizzly bears in the lower 48 states. The agency was renamed “Wildlife Services” in 1997. Really.
Have we tried to stop this? Periodically, efforts have been made to reign in the agency’s worst excesses. In 1964, a panel of scientists wrote that “The program of animal control has become an end in itself and no longer is a balanced component of an overall scheme of wildlife husbandry and management.” In 1971, President Nixon signed an executive order banning poison for predator control. President Ford later amended the order to allow the continued use of sodium cyanide. In 1999, the American Society of Mammalogists passed a resolution calling on the agency, “to cease indiscriminate, pre-emptive lethal control programs on federal, state and private lands.” “The irony is state governments and the federal government are spending millions of dollars to preserve species and then (you have) Wildlife Services out there killing the same animals,” said Michael Mares, president of the American Society of Mammalogists. “It boggles the mind.”
Why are we still funding this? Despite modern data on the positive effects predators have on ecosystems and better and more effective non-lethal predator management, the agency continues funding only lethal control methods. Generations of ranchers have been trained to expect that the federal government will destroy predators on request as well as troublesome creatures like prairie dogs, who compete with cows for vegetation and/or create dangerous holes. (Ironically, these smaller creatures are the preferred prey of coyotes.) “It’s deeply ensconced in the culture,” says Camilla Fox of Project Coyote, a national organization that advocates for conservation and predator-friendly agriculture. “If people knew how many animals are being killed at taxpayer expense – often on public lands – they would be shocked and horrified.” “The livestock industry is the last wildlife-genocide program in the United States,” says Bruce Apple, the director of an Oregon-based environmental organization appropriately called Rest the West. “All-out war is declared on a diversity of species every day to benefit a single industry.”
The “Cheap Burger” costs start here: Ranchers who use Wildlife Services often also use what one rancher called the “Columbus” method – releasing unsupervised prey animals in the spring onto federal grazing allotments that contain predators, and then “discovering” their herds in the fall. This “hands-off’ management makes complete decimation of predators more attractive and leads to devastation of the public’s rangeland. Cattle and sheep displace native grazers, while causing severe soil erosion, desertification, dispersion of noxious weeds, and damage to streams, watersheds and riparian areas. (Atlantic) “Cattle aren’t native to this country—they come from Europe, where a wetter, greener, and more resilient landscape than that prevailing in the West accustomed them to a sedentary grazing style, earning them the nickname “vacuum feeders. …Heavily domesticated, safe from predators owing to the government’s killing program, the American beef cow behaves like a spoiled houseguest, frequently hanging out along rangeland stream banks all day long. The West’s native grazers—primarily elk, deer, antelope, and bighorn sheep—eat in a roving, less intensive manner.”
The fees are peanuts: In 2019, grazing fees for federal land were lowered to the legal minimum of $1.35, (the same price paid in 1985), for (1) cow and a calf, or (5) sheep, far below the $21.60/month average charged by private land. Some of the wealthiest people in America are taking advantage of these bargain sale prices, including the Mormon Church and tycoons like William Hewlett and David Packard, the Koch brothers and Bruce McCaw. Each of these billionaires hold huge amounts of grazing permits, and benefit from an annual estimated one billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies, while causing long-term damage to one of the public’s most treasured assets. (Koch on free markets “...if you get the benefits, but you’ve socialized the cost, get other people to bear the cost, then you get unproductive behavior, and the system breaks down.”). The 2012 Interior Economic Report admits that the absurdly low grazing rates “creates an incentive to use federal forage before using other forage sources and perhaps to use federal grazing allotments more intensively than privately owned rangeland.”
The game is rigged: Struggling ranchers and welfare cowboys alike promote the myth that predators kill lots of cattle (actually less than 1%), and if an animal goes missing or is killed, they demand that our government step in with lethal means to protect their “product”. We taxpayers also compensate them directly for predator losses, which encourages report inflation – where a dead or missing animal is attributed to animal predators without proof. USDA data show that nine times more cattle and sheep die from illnesses, birthing problems, weather, poisoning, and theft (4,003,847), than from all predators combined (461,159).
The Best Solution!: The best solution is stop killing predators and get livestock, one of the biggest contributors to global climate change, native species extinction and the overuse of antibiotics and pesticides, off public land. Not only is it clear that livestock grazing on public lands is out of place with modern values, the whole business doesn’t even make economic sense…
A quick moment for comparitive economics. From the 2017 Dept. of the Interior Economic Report, grazing activities supported an estimated $2.5 billion in economic output and about 41,000 jobs. The Bureau of Land Managemeng (BLM) and Forest Service (FS) typically spend more managing their grazing programs than they collect in grazing fees. $79.0 million was appropriated to BLM for rangeland management in FY2017, and collected $18.3 million in grazing fees. In contrast, recreation and tourism at Interior sites supported an estimated $29.0 billion in value added, $51.6 billion in economic output, and about 418,000 jobs. And it’s not like you can have both without compromise. “…livestock grazing greatly reduces the value of a landscape for recreation. With polluted water, degraded wildlife habitat, hundreds of thousands of miles of barbed wire fence that tear clothes, gates that are nearly impossible to open and close, predator killing to protect livestock, aggressive guard dogs, and many other impacts, livestock grazing eliminates or detracts from the value of the landscapes that would otherwise support much more wildlife and unhindered recreation.“
Second best: A partial solution is to demand higher fees for environmental restoration work and require ranchers to maintain the safety of their herds with non-lethal “predator management” strategies, keep the numbers of herd animals allowed per acre to a sustainable number, require daily interaction and management of herds to protect the range, move cattle before the land’s limit is reached and “retire” land from grazing allotments before damage reaches irreparable limits.
Some positive signs:
- In 2018, Wildlife Services lost a lawsuit in Idaho brought by Western Watersheds Project, Wild Earth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, and Predator Defense against Wildlife Services. “Wildlife Services will now have to fairly evaluate how killing thousands of coyotes in southern Idaho each year affects the environment,” Talasi Brooks, a staff attorney for Advocates for the West. Audit records from 2013 have revealed violation of state and federal laws as well as lack of transparency from Wildlife services.
- Also in 2018, Shasta County announced that the county has suspended its contract with the notorious federal wildlife-killing program known as Wildlife Services. The program has killed more than 35,000 animals a year in the county. Other counties currently not contracting with Wildlife Services include Siskiyou, Mendicino, Sonoma and Marin Counties.
- In 2017, a San Francisco federal court approved an agreement halting controversial methods such as aerial gunning to kill “nuisance animals” in Northern California. Reuters reported that under terms of the accord, Wildlife Services, will suspend for at least six years its practice of gunning down coyotes from helicopters and airplanes and using traps to kill creatures in wilderness areas in 16 counties in California. It bans the use of M-44 cyanide devices, den fumigants and lead ammunition. It bans any use of body-gripping traps, such as strangulation snares and steel-jaw leghold traps, in designated wilderness and wilderness study areas
- In 2017, Travis County cut ties with Texas Wildlife Services in favor of their city’s wildlife management program, which emphasizes education over killing.
Things we should require of ranchers who want to keep using our land…
- Even though they don’t use it, the USDA Wildlife Services has a fact sheet on non-lethal predator management.
- Apparently one can teach cattle to act more like their cousins, wild bison, who surround and protect their weakest members, using “predator awareness” training.
- Keep older non-breeding mother cows instead of selling them off. They are often the most defensive members of their herds.
- Raise smarter cows breeds that are historically better at protecting themselves.
Ancient White Park Cattle; Photo by Louise Johns
- Use wildlife-friendly conservation strategies:
- Recognize that wolves help their herds healthy by discouraging deer, elk and moose from staying too long in the grasslands, which prevents diseases (such as brucellosis) from potentially spreading from wildlife to cattle.
- Stop killing predators’ preferred prey, like prairie dogs.
- Recognize that wolves tends to keep other predators, like coyotes, at bay.
- Recognize consumer demand for food and other products from farms and ranches that are committed to coexisting with our native predators, and people are willing to pay a higher price for them.
- Use pasture – management techniques to protect a herd’s food supply and the land. Like this guy does…
What can we do? Do we have to give up meat to save wolves and the earth?
According to a major study recently published in Nature, “On our current path, emissions from food production could surge by 87 percent by 2050, “reaching levels that are beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity. Even if we completely decarbonize the energy system, we would still really need to tackle the emissions that are associated with the food we eat.” However, in the meantime…
- You don’t have to be a vegan to be a climate-friendly eater. If Americans cut our beef intake by 40%, as recommended by the World Health Organization, to just under six ounces a day per person, we’d be doing our part to slash global food-related emissions by nearly a third.
- A move to a “flexitarian diet”—1.5 ounces of meat a day, or about three hamburgers-worth a week—would help the world cut these emissions by 52 percent, giving the climate a shot.
- Buy “grass-fed” beef. Well-managed pastureland also retains topsoil remarkably well—switching from cornfields to pastureland, according to Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, cuts soil erosion by 93 percent. A USDA study found that Great Plains pastureland stores 54 percent more CO2 per acre than cropland. Also, more than half of all corn and 98 percent of all soy grown in the United States goes to raise livestock, even though feeding this diet to cows promotes virulent strains (PDF) of E. coli and liver abscesses—which farmers treat with high doses of antibiotics, which decreases their effectiveness for us.
- When you have a choice, buy certified “Wildlife Friendly” meat.
- If you choose a vegetarian substitute, make sure it doesn’t involve hexane or other toxic chemicals.
- Several European countries have weighed a meat tax. Springmann calculated that here in the United States, a 160 percent tax on processed meat like ham and salami could slash consumption by a quarter.
So, what does that burger cost?
You can read this article here, or watch this.
- You Don’t Have to Be a Vegan to Be a Climate-Friendly Eater (mother jones)
- The USDA admits to killing over a million wild animals per year to protect livestock (returntonow.net)
- The Rancher Subsidy (Atlantic)
- The Real Price and Consequences of Livestock Grazing on America’s Public Lands (WesternWaterSheds.org)
- Costs and Consequences – The real price of livestock grazing on America’s Public Land. (biological diversity.org)
- Trump Administration Lowers Grazing Fees, Endangering Public Land (biological diversity.org)
- Ranching in wolf territory – a new approach (nathab)
- The killing agency: Wildlife Services’ brutal methods leave a trail of animal death (Sacbee)
- Wildlife Services: Stop poisoning predators (humane society)
- Court smacks down USDA’s wildlife killing program in Idaho (kutv)
- California County Suspends Contract with Federal Wildlife-killing Agency (biological diversity)
- Download a free copy of Project Coyote’s Camilla Fox’s co-authored book, Coyotes In Our Midst, here, and share it wherever you can to help educate your community about coyote ecology and behavior, and how we can live safely and peacefully with this adaptable and intelligent predator.
- Using coyotes to protect livestock. Wait. What? (projectcoyote)
- Forbes Billionaires Top US Welfare Ranchers List (dailypitchfork)
- Grazing Fees: Overview and Issues , Updated march 4, 2019 (Congressional Research Service)
- BLM Public Lands Grazing Accounts for Only 0.41% of Nation’s Livestock Receipts (The Wildlife News)