Wildlife Services Kills Wolves in Sawtooth National Recreation Area to Prop Up Harmful Sheep Grazing
For Immediate Release: July 17, 2018
Kristin Ruether, Western Watersheds Project (208) 440-1930
BOISE, Ida. — Wildlife Services, the secretive USDA agency that kills wildlife on behalf of the agriculture industry, trapped three wolves with leg-hold traps in the Forest Service’s Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) last week, then shot them, according to a report from Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG). The request came from a sheep rancher after several sheep were killed on the Salmon-Pole-Champion grazing allotment near Stanley, Idaho. Wildlife Services killed the wolves on orders from IDFG, which manages wolves in Idaho.
For decades, the Forest Service has continued to permit livestock grazing on public lands in this rugged, remote corner of Idaho, despite known risks to native wildlife, including wolves and bighorn sheep. “Wildlife Services, Idaho Fish and Game, and the Forest Service have time-and-time again shown that they care more about perpetuating economically marginal grazing operations than protecting native wildlife,” said Scott Lake, Idaho Director of Western Watersheds Project. “This is yet another example of how private profits prevail over the public interest in public lands grazing, even in places supposed to be managed for wildlife such as the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.”
The SNRA is one of the most geographically and biologically remarkable areas in the United States, and it hosts some of the most stunning wilderness in the West. With over 40 peaks rising above 10,000 feet and more than 300 high-elevation mountain lakes, the SNRA is a world-class destination for camping, hiking, backpacking, fishing, photography, and boating. In addition to unparalleled recreational opportunities, the area provides essential habitat for fish and wildlife, including endangered salmon, bighorn sheep and wolves.
It’s also congressionally protected. The Sawtooth National Recreation Area Organic Act only permits extractive uses like livestock grazing if they do not “substantially impair” wildlife conservation. Although Congress has required the Forest Service to determine how commercial activities like grazing affect the Organic Act’s conservation mandate, the Forest Service has so far refused to study the issue on many grazing allotments, despite repeated conflicts. The Forest Service also refuses to place common-sense restrictions on grazing operations to reduce the likelihood of conflict with wolves.
“These conflicts show that grazing in this remarkable area is not compatible with conserving native wildlife, and the Forest Service’s refusal to acknowledge this is a slap in the face to those who love the SNRA and its wildlife,” said Kristin Ruether, staff attorney with Western Watersheds Project.
Grazing in the SNRA also threatens the viability of the nearby East Fork bighorn sheep herd. Domestic sheep can transmit deadly pneumonia to bighorn sheep, and the Salmon/Pole/Champion allotment—where the wolves were killed last week—presents the highest risk of disease transmission out of all active grazing allotments in Idaho. Although the East Fork herd remains far below a viable population level (likely due to disease), the Forest Service continues to authorize domestic sheep grazing on the Salmon/Pole/Champion and neighboring Fisher Creek allotments year after year.
Gray wolves and bighorn sheep were both extirpated from most of their historic ranges by overhunting and, in the case of wolves, government-sponsored eradication efforts. Both species were reintroduced to Idaho with popular support, but recovery efforts have been stymied thanks to conflicts with public lands grazing operations. Since wolves lost Endangered Species Act protection in 2011, the State of Idaho, in partnership with USDA Wildlife Services, has engaged in systematic efforts to reduce wolf populations on Idaho’s public lands.
“Actions like the ones taken last week simply repeat the mistakes of the past,” Lake said. “The Forest Service should instead look to the future and protect Idaho’s wildlife, which are infinitely more valuable than the meager forage provided by public lands grazing allotments.”
Federal agencies like the Forest Service often claim they lack the authority to manage wildlife populations, but this has been debunked by leading researchers such as Martin Nie, who concluded in a 2017 study that “Federal land management agencies have an obligation, and not just the discretion, to manage and conserve fish and wildlife on federal lands.”