The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking long-term approval of the predator damage management program now in place in Wyoming.

An environmental assessment prepared by the federal agency’s Wildlife Services program proposes to continue use of the “full range of legally available methods,” including but not limited to livestock guard animals, frightening devices, ground and aerial shooting, killing animals in their dens and the use of spring-loaded poisoning devices that shoot a dose of sodium cyanide into animals’ mouths when they yank at a baited ground-mounted device.

“The methods used to target predators in a given damage situation depend on the species causing the damage and other factors, including location, weather and time of year,” the Wildlife Services planning document says. “These methods include foot-hold traps, padded-jaw foot-hold traps, cage traps, aerial shooting, M-44s, shooting, calling and shooting, neck snares and denning (involving the use of gas cartridges).”

Wildlife Services’ activities are intended to prevent or reduce wildlife damage to agricultural producers, industry and natural resources. Federal field agents over a recent five-year period in Wyoming annually killed an average of 7,042 coyotes, 2,177 raccoons, 655 ravens, 503 striped skunks, 164 feral cats, 65 badgers and four mountain lions, the environmental assessment says.

Killing species is not always a response to conflict but is often done proactively in hope of preventing depredation down the road. Wildlife Services’ aerial gunners, for instance, routinely shoot coyotes indiscriminately in much of the state.

Operations in Teton County are relatively minor compared with other Wyoming counties where agriculture is more prevalent. Wildlife Services does have a staffer based in County 22, but on occasion it dispatches a field agent to try to curb conflict with large carnivores like wolves.

Wolf conflict management is not addressed in the environmental assessment now up for review because a past planning document specifically covered that species.

Besides the species already mentioned the plan covers killing of crows, bald eagles, black bears, bobcats, golden eagles, grizzly bears, mink, porcupine, red fox, spotted skunk, opossum and three varieties of weasel.

Other alternatives assessed but dismissed by Wildlife Services include discontinuing the agency’s operations in Wyoming, permitting only nonlethal management methods and requiring that livestock producers show evidence of sustained use of nonlethal techniques prior to Wildlife Services taking lethal action.

Wildlife Services’ offices elsewhere in the West and country have in recent months released their own environmental assessments that contemplate the future predator damage management operations in other states. Through its own planning process, Wildlife Services-Idaho recently decided to discontinue use of spring-loaded poisoning devices on all public land.

Wildlife Services is accepting public comments on its environmental assessment and plan for Wyoming through Friday.

The document and comments can both be submitted online at Regulations.gov/docket?D=APHIS-2016-0084. A copy of the planning document is also available alongside the online version of this story at JHNewsAndGuide.com.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or environmental@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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