Wildlife Services to review predator management methods in Wyoming

By Laura Bies

Coyotes are one of the species that can cause damage to agriculture and are managed in part through Wildlife Service’s predator damage management efforts in Wyoming. ©Tom Koerner/USFWS

Under the terms of a recent court settlement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services agreed to conduct an environmental analysis of its predator damage management activities on federal lands in Wyoming and pause the use of certain methods in the state, including cyanide-based traps known as M-44s, until the review is complete. The agreement applies to the 10 million acres of national parks, national forests, wilderness areas and wilderness study areas across the state.

Earlier this year, the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians sued the Department of Agriculture, arguing that Wildlife Services’ predator damage management program in Wyoming did not adequately consider impacts on animals and the environment. They contend that the traps, which Wildlife Services deploys to reduce damage to crops and livestock caused by coyotes (Canis latrans), wolves (Canis lupus) and other predators are dangerous for humans and non-target animals.

Although Wildlife Services has recently reviewed M-44 use, it has not issued a final environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act since 1998. Under the agreement, this new analysis must be completed by early 2021. Wildlife Service must complete an environmental assessment and issue either a finding of no significant impact or a notice that it will prepare a full environmental impact statement.

While their review is underway, the agency cannot use M-44s on National Park Service lands, Forest Service lands, wilderness areas or wilderness study areas in the state. The agreement also prevents the use of den fumigants or lead ammunition on these lands by the agency during that time. Wildlife Services will also cease any aerial operations on wilderness areas or wilderness study areas in Wyoming during the environmental review.

The Wildlife Society’s Standing Position on Wildlife Damage Management recognizes that addressing damage caused by wildlife is an important part of modern wildlife management. TWS also supports the use of traps to control predators, reduce human-wildlife conflict and for other purposes. The Society’s standing position on trapping calls for ethical trapping methods that cause animals to expire quickly or capture and restrain animals in systems that reduce or eliminate injuries.

Earlier this summer, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a decision permitting continued use of M-44s but updating safety rules for their use, to reduce accidents and injuries affecting humans and non-target animals. Those rules required agencies to post elevated signs within 15 feet of each M-44 device, notify those living within a half-mile of trap locations and place traps at least 100 feet from public roads or trails. Last week, the EPA reversed this decision, pending further review of M-44s.

Lawmakers introduced federal legislation in May to ban cyanide traps, but no hearings or votes have been held.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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