Clinton declares war on ferals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1999:

war on species not native to the U.S., President
Bill Clinton on February 2 issued an executive
order creating an interagency Invasive Species
Council which within 18 months is to produce a
plan to “mobilize the federal government to
defend against” what Clinton called “aggressive
predators and pests.”
The ISC will be jointly chaired by
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Commerce
Secretary William Daley, and Agriculture
Secretary Dan Glickman. USDA Wildlife
Services, just eight months after the House of
Representatives briefly voted to rescind more
than a third of its funding, would appear to be
the chief beneficiary of $29 million for invasive
species eradication that Clinton included in his
proposed fiscal year 2000 budget, sent to
Congress in late January.

The total fiscal 1999 Wildlife
Services budget was only $28.8 million.
Originally a division of the U.S. Geological
Survey, the agency existed as a division of the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called Animal
Damage Control from 1930 until 1986, when
the Ronald Reagan presidential administration
moved it to the USDA to appease western
ranchers who were afraid that the USFWS
might cut back coyote killing.
Media releases describing the expanded
mission for Wildlife Services focused on
plants, viruses, micro-organisms transported
accidently in ships’ ballast water, and unpopular
invertebrates, including zebra mussels, East
Asian longhorned beetles, and mitten crabs.
The only vertebrate mentioned in next-day
media reports reaching ANIMAL PEOPLE
was the brown tree snake, much feared in
Hawaii after allegedly anihilating four endangered
native bird species in Guam.
But the ISC mandate could easily
include killing feral cats, a much-voiced
demand of hunter/conservationist organizations
including the American Bird Conservancy and
National Audubon Society.
As ANIMAL PEOPLE pointed out
in March 1997, cats make a convenient scapegoat
for the decline of neotropical migratory
songbirds. But the ABC and Audubon estimates
of the numbers of songbirds killed by
cats tend to be derived from use of highly questionable
statistical methodology.
There is mounting evidence that the
songbirds’ most critical problem is loss of nesting
habitat in forest understory, due to overpopulations
of deer which have been created by
pro-hunting wildlife management policies.
Animal shelter intake data around the
U.S. indicates, meanwhile, that the growing
popularity of neuter/return feral cat control during
the 1990s has coincided with the first drop
on record in free roaming cat numbers.

Pigs, too
The ISC mandate will very likely
include escalated efforts to kill feral pigs,
though no one has ever succeeded in eradicating
feral pigs from anywhere other than small
islands. And even that isn’t easy—or humane.
The Santa Catalina Island Conservancy, the
Nature Conservancy, and the National Park

Service are still trying to exterminate the estimated
2,000 feral pigs and 250 goats left on
Catalina Island, a decade after the killing
commenced in 1989. The pig and goat populations
have been substantially reduced, however,
from the tens of thousands that once
inhabited Catalina and the other islands now
incorporated into Channel Islands National
Park. Sheep, cattle, bison, and horses have
been entirely removed.
The mass killings of hooved animals
were ordered ostensibly to protect endangered
species, but the loss of their carcasses as a
food source appears to coincide with the collapse
of the island fox population. The small
fox subspecies occurs nowhere else. There
were about 450 of the foxes when the massacres
of hooved animals began; as of mid-
1998, there were fewer than 40. But, officially,
the loss of the foxes is blamed on disease.
Other anti-pig efforts gained
momentum in both California and Florida as
the Invasive Species Council was organized.
Concerned that an estimated 2,000
feral pigs who inhabit about 40,000 acres of
watershed might infect the water supply for
375,000 customers with the cryptosporidium
microcrobe, which can be fatal to people with
weak immune systems, the San Francisco
Public Utilities Commission and California
Department of Fish and Game hired a professional
feral animal control specialist” to trap
and kill as many pigs as can be caught. A
Utilities Commission spokesperson hoped that
might be half the pigs.
The managers of the Merritt Island
National Wildlife Refuge near Titusville,
Florida, meanwhile solicited bids from trappers
interested in killing up to 15,000 feral
pigs, who are accused of eating the eggs of
endangered sea turtles—a behavior the pigs are
said to have acquired within just the past
decade, after arriving in the area with Spanish
explorers circa 450 years ago.
The National Park Service in 1998
targeted raccoons for eating sea turtle eggs at
the nearby Canaveral National Seashore, but
were persuaded to hold off after University of
Georgia professor Robert Warren showed that
putting protective screens over turtle nests was
much more effective, at little more cost:
$7.52 per nest for screens, or $22,575 per
year, compared with $7.05 for killing raccoons,
or $21,166 per year.

Other species
The ISC mandate could include killing
wild horses and burros wherever not protected
by the 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horse
and Burro Act, a longstanding hope of both
western ranchers and other old-line
hunter/conservationist organizations such as
The Nature Conservancy, the Natural
Resources Defense Council, some chapters of
the Sierra Club, and the North American Wild
Sheep Foundation.
The ISC mandate could include
killing feral parrots in Florida, Texas,
Connecticut, and California.
The ISC mandate may include subsidies
for killing nutria in Louisiana, introduced
by the fur industry about 70 years ago
and officially blamed ever since for erosion of
levees not protected by stone facing (commonly
called “rip-wrap”).
The ISC mandate may also revive
the perennial National Park Service push to
kill all the mountain goats in Olympic National
Park, on the claim that they are only native to
the Cascades, not to the Olympics, and are
purportedly jeopardizing rare plants. U.S.
Representative Norm Dicks (D-Washington)
scuttled the last such push in early 1998 with a
finding that the science behind it didn’t withstand
Almost certainly, the ISC mandate
will not include removing non-native cattle
from leased land in National Wildlife Refuges,
National Parks, and National Forests.
The Clinton executive order was
announced on the eve of Clinton’s acquittal by
the U.S. Senate after an impeachment hearing,
on charges that he obstructed justice and lied
to Congress about his affair with former White
House aide Monica Lewinsky. The order
potentially amounted to largess for pet programs
of many key Senators and Members of
the House, as well as for the old-line conservation
groups, which enjoy great influence in
the Clinton administration via Babbitt and vice
president Albert Gore.
Both Babbitt and Gore have long
been rumored as candidates to succeed Clinton
as president. Gore has reportedly already
formed a campaign organization.

Feare fears
One conservationist who didn’t welcome
the Clinton order was attorney Don
Feare, executive director of the Texas-based
Wildflight Rescue Foundation.
“I fear the recent Presidential action
provides little more than a national hunting
license for species not yet even targeted as
threatening to our environment,” Feare told
ANIMAL PEOPLE. “It will provide the
framework for such targeting, without the
necessity of sufficient scientific data. More
importantly, it will permit us to maintain our
arrogant belief that we can control nature,
when the best we can do is interfere. I often
wonder how wildlife habitats and species ever
survived before we had government agencies.
Our constant return to the kill-em-all method
of wildlife management,” Feare continued,
“has but proven that humans are not successfully
controlling wildlife. If human management
worked, we wouldn’t have to continue
doing it over decades.
“Very few of the species in this country
or other nations were there when this glob of
molten lava hardened into a planet,” Feare
added. “Over time, species moved from continent
to continent. Left to her own devices,
Nature has done quite well with population of
available habitat and then population control to
ensure the habitat is supporting only the number
that it can adequately support. When we
see an apparent error in this theory, we can
almost always track it back to human intervention.
We have the alleged Canada goose problem
because so-called wildlife managers, taking
a species almost extinct in this country,
rebuilt the population in order to hunt it. Then,
to ensure even more target opportunities,
wildlife managers developed large areas for
breeding and trapped all of the predators that
Nature had put there to control populations. It
was believed that hunting would both prevent
waterfowl overpopulation and produce funding
for the management agencies. But as usual,
killing didn’t work, and the agencies weren’t
wise enough to cease the breeding programs
and stop killing predators. The goose problem
grew far worse and now, as usual, the agencies
blame the wildlife instead of themselves.”
Since Canada geese are a native
species, technically speaking, they shouldn’t
come under the Clinton order—at least not as
both the order and the geese are now defined.
However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
and several state wildlife agencies have
already recognized a species distinction
between migratory Canada geese and the physically
larger nonmigratory population. In theory,
at least, the nonmigratory geese were once
hybridized with imported domestic geese.
They could accordingly be declared feral
aliens despite their native appearance.

One ironic aspect of killing some
species in order to encourage others was highlighted
in February—in a situation involving
all native species—when The Wildlife Society
Bulletin published the finding of chemical
ecologist Rex Cates and colleagues at Brigham
Young University that willow trees are now
scarce along streams in Yellowstone National
Park due to the scarcity of beavers.
Trapped out in the Yellowstone
region during the 19th century, beavers were
later restored, but have been kept in tight
check lest their activity flood roads and camp
sites. But beaver ponds create favorable conditions
for willow growth, and willows are
requisite habitat for many endangered and
threatened species—among them the southwestern
willow flycatcher.
Because of an urgent need to mitigate
the effects of water projects on southwestern
willow flycatcher nesting habitat, the federal
Bureau of Reclamation recently granted
$4.4 million to the Nature Conservancy,
toward the cost of creating the 876-acre San
Pedro River Preserve in Arizona. Intended to
protect a key southwestern willow flycatcher
nesting site, the preserve was dedicated in
October 1998.
Officials of the Southwestern
Riverside County Multi-Species Reserve in
California meanwhile proceeded with plans to
kill as many as 20 beavers because they were
purportedly damaging habitat for two endangered
least Bell’s vireos—as well as southwestern
willow flycatchers.
The California Department of Fish
and Game gave the reserve the go-ahead,
refusing to authorize relocation of the beavers
to large tracts elsewhere in the state, whose
owners want beavers.
Friends of Lake Skinner Wildlife on
February 19 sought an injunction to halt the
beaver trapping, pending hearings at which
the state officials will be asked just how they
figure that killing the animals who create willow
swamps is going to benefit birds who need
more such swamps, not less.

Other native species may fall under
the gun or trap in California on similar pretext.
Momentum toward killing pumas to
save the Sierra Nevada subspecies of bighorn
sheep increased on February 10, when the
Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra
Nevada Bighorn Sheep Foundation, Friends of
the Inyo, National Parks and Conservation
Association, and The Wilderness Society
jointly asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service to immediately list the sheep as an
endangered species.
The listing would allow the USFWS
to hire USDA Wildlife Services hunters and
trappers to kill pumas.
Claimed the coalition, “Puma predation
has increased dramatically over the last
decade, and has been the factor pushing these
sheep to the edge of extinction.”
Scarcely mentioned was that the
biggest factor reducing the Sierra Nevada
sheep population has been disease transmitted
from domestic sheep who graze many of the
same pastures within National Forests.
Omitted was that the Sierra Nevada
sheep herd in the Baxter Pass/Rae Lakes area,
now down to 30, was long used as the source
of the bighorns who were reintroduced to
many other sites in the Sierras, in operations
funded by the North American Wild Sheep
Foundation with the ambition of creating herds
big enough to hunt.
Also omitted was that big game
hunters have been looking for a pretext to
reverse the state ban on puma hunting ever
since it was made permanent by California
voters in November 1990.

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