Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

Wildlife Services commits to review of methods

JACKSON — Facing legal pressure, a federal agency that kills wildlife deemed to be a nuisance has agreed to reassess its plans for operating in Wyoming.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services will take that step because of a settlement agreement with a coalition of wildlife advocacy groups, which sued last winter arguing that the agency’s current plans are outdated and ignore the best-available science. The agreement also includes a range of “commitments” from Wildlife Services, including not using cyanide-based “M-44” devises on some classes of federal lands in the Equality State.

“I would say it’s a victory for Wyoming’s wildlife,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a Victor, Idaho-based Center for Biological Diversity attorney who was party to the litigation. “This will give them a reprieve from some of the most cruel methods of killing that are out there.”

U.S. Attorney Mark Klaassen signed off on the settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity last week.

The primary purpose of the advocacy group’s lawsuit was to compel Wildlife Services to update its National Environmental Policy Act authorizations for killing Wyoming wildlife. The agency, which is a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, works closely with agricultural industries and county-level predator boards, and frequently uses lethal tools to prevent damage to cropland and livestock.

In the settlement, Wildlife Service agreed to release its final Wyoming operating plans no later than Jan. 8, 2021. While receiving that assurance was the “main point” of the lawsuit, Santarsiere said there were some other “interim measures” agreed to that will better protect wildlife in the meantime.

Statewide, Wildlife Services agreed to prohibit “quick-kill” or conibear-style traps, Compound 1080 and anticoagulants; use breakaway neck snares that release larger non-target animals; and also end the use of foot snares for coyotes. There is also a commitment to use only padded foot-hold traps, or devices with offset jaws.

The agency also made regional commitments in the settlement agreement.

On National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service lands, M-44s are now banned. Wildlife Services on a national level recently reauthorized the poisonous devices, which frequently attract media attention when they kill people’s pets.

Other forest and park-land restrictions include a ban on using gas cartridges on denning animals and a ban on using lead ammunition except when carcasses are removed from the landscape. Research shows that lead fragments can harm the health of species that scavenge on carcasses shot with lead ammunition.

An even more narrow geographic restriction Wildlife Services agreed to is to end aerial gunning in national parks and in wilderness and wilderness study areas.

Wildlife Services’s Wyoming Director Mike Foster did not respond to an interview request by press time. A colleague in his Cheyenne office did not reply to emailed questions.

It’s unclear which, if any, of the commitments in the settlement agreement change how Wildlife Services presently operates in Wyoming. Many of the restrictions do not apply to lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and privately owned property, where the agency does most of its work.

But Santarsiere was optimistic that the agreed-to restrictions will make a difference for Wyoming’s fauna.

“I think these commitments will keep more wildlife alive,” she said, “and especially keep more wildlife that are not being targeted that are incidentally caught in these deadly traps alive.”

Wildlife Services logs show the agency reported killing 13,951 animals in Wyoming during 2018, some 82% of which were native species. Coyotes were by far the most-targeted critter, with 6,231 members of the Canis latrans clan being killed in various ways.