WildEarth Guardians to Forest Service: Stop allowing killing of tens of thousands of native carnivores

Petition urges U.S. Forest Service to fulfill its legal obligation to mandate carnivore coexistence measures in its grazing program, saving wolves, bears, and other carnivores from slaughter

Lizzy Pennock, WildEarth Guardians, 406-830-8924, [email protected]
Lindsay Larris, WildEarth Guardians, 720-334-7636, [email protected]

MISSOULA, MONTANA—WildEarth Guardians has called on the U.S. Forest Service to incorporate wildlife-livestock conflict mitigation measures into its grazing program on over 70 million acres to protect native carnivores from death due to conflicts with privately owned livestock on public lands.

Retaliatory killing of carnivores in response to livestock conflicts—including the mere presence of a carnivore in the vicinity of livestock—is a leading cause of death for species including wolves, grizzly bears, and coyotes. WildEarth Guardians filed a petition to fundamentally change that paradigm, protecting native carnivores’ inherent right to exist on federal public lands.

The Forest Service is legally obligated to mitigate the threat that livestock grazing poses to native carnivores. Currently, however, the Forest Service permits taxpayer-subsidized livestock grazing on 74-million acres of land that it manages—including in prime wildlife habitat—without any binding, enforceable conflict reduction measures in place. When conflicts ensue, carnivores die. The federal government kills tens of thousands of native carnivores every year, killing over 68,000 in 2021 alone, many in response to reported or suspected livestock-carnivore conflicts, and many others are killed preemptively before conflicts occur. And the federal government slaughter figures tell only a portion of the story. In national forests across the American West, state entities and hired contractors are also brought in to kill wolves and other carnivores in response to livestock conflicts.

“The Forest Service has both the legal authority and responsibility to create a proactive, science-based national grazing management framework that prevents these conflicts,” said Lizzy Pennock, carnivore coexistence advocate at WildEarth Guardians. “The agency should take this opportunity to prioritize carnivore coexistence with livestock instead of continuing to rely on its outdated grazing program, which too often results in the retaliatory shooting, poisoning, and strangling of carnivores in their native habitats.”

Wolf-livestock conflicts in Washington State provide an example of how this plays out on the ground. The Forest Service permits livestock grazing in most of the densely forested, rugged terrain that comprises the Colville National Forest. Conflicts between livestock and wolves occur here year after year, and yet the Forest Service has not made any changes to its livestock management to accommodate gray wolves expanding into their historic territory. Over 90% of wolves killed statewide in Washington between 2012 and early 2021 were killed in response to claims of predations on privately owned livestock permitted by the Forest Service in the Colville National Forest.

“For far too long, the Forest Service has simply thrown up its hands and said ‘not it’ when it came to accepting responsibility for the obliteration of wolf packs on federally-managed public land,” said Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians. “The Forest Service is responsible for creating this problem on the land it manages by issuing grazing permits, yet somehow the agency also claims it has no power in setting regulations for how to manage conflicts between native species and invasive livestock. This rationale defies both the law and basic principles of logic.”

The petition urges the Forest Service to modify its grazing program to incorporate specific, science-backed measures to prevent and mitigate livestock-carnivore conflicts and to stop the carnivore killing that follows, including:

• Creating a minimum one-mile buffer zone between livestock/livestock attractants and known wolf den and rendezvous sites;

• Prohibiting the turnout of young lambs, calves under 200 pounds in weight, and sick or injured livestock, to minimize predation potential; and

• Limiting grazing to open, defensible spaces and prohibiting livestock from grazing unattended by human range riders in remote, heavily treed areas.

A large and growing body of science shows both that non-lethal measures are more effective than killing wildlife for reducing conflict and that the majority of the American public supports the use of non-lethal conflict reduction measures instead of cruel and unnecessary killing.

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