Wildlife Federation holds huge killing contest

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2002:

SASKATOON, WASHINGTON D.C.–From April 1, when fools
reputedly follow groundhogs out of winter hiding, until June 23,
the Saskatoon Wildlife Federation is sponsoring reputedly the biggest
wildlife killing contest in Canadian history.
More animals are expected to be massacred in the Ken Turcot
Memorial Gopher Derby than in the Atlantic Canada offshore seal
hunt–which has a quota this year of 275,000 harp seals and 10,000
hooded seals.


Saskatoon Wildlife Federation business manager Len Jabush
told Karen Morrison of The Western Producer that he initially ordered
10,000 entry forms, expecting 2,000 contestants to pay $20 each to
have their “gopher” tails counted. Only 10 days after announcing the
contest, however, Jabush claimed he was “scrambling” to print more.
The intended main victims will be Richardson’s ground
squirrels, close kin to prairie dogs. Slightly smaller than prairie
dogs, Richardson’s ground squirrels live from northern New Mexico to
the northern edge of the Canadian prairies, while prairie dogs are
found from Mexico to southern Saskatchewan. Most of their range
overlaps. Most viewers do not distinguish one species from the other.
The only Ken Turcot Memorial Gopher Derby rules are that
entrants must be residents of Saskatchewan, must freeze the tails
before sending them in, to inhibit decomposition, and must have
permission of the owner of the land where they do their killing. Any
killing method is permitted.
As poisoned ground squirrels and prairie dogs tend to die
underground, most entrants are expected to rely on guns and traps.
Saskatchwan SPCA executive director Frances Wach reportedly
told Western Producer reporter Morrison that her organization
“accepts pest control as a part of agricultural practice in
Saskatchewan, provided it is done humanely.”
The most outspoken public opponent of the killing contest was
British Columbia registered nurse Sinikka Crosland, speaking and
writing on behalf of the Canadian Health Action Professionals’
Committee for Compassionate Living.
Jabush said the Ken Turcot Memor-ial Gopher Derby is named
for a longtime Saskatoon Wildlife Federation member who reputedly
lived to shoot “gophers.”
The Saskatoon Wildlife Federation is a local chapter of the
Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, which is a chapter of the Canadian
Wildlife Federation.
Founded in 1962, the Canadian Wildlife Federation is
officially independent from the U.S.-based National Wildlife
Federation, begun 26 years earlier. They have separate governing
boards and raise funds independently. But CWF is structured like
NWF, which is the U.S. national umbrella for 49 state hunting clubs,
united in 1936 at instigation of syndicated hunting columnist Jay
“Ding” Darling. CWF distributes the pro-hunting Project Wild lesson
plans developed by NWF to 85,000 Canadian classrooms, and since 1974
has distributed the NWF magazine International Wildlife to CFW
members as a membership benefit.
The National Wildlife Federation has since 1998 solicited
funds on behalf of saving prairie dogs, and has petitioned to have
prairie dogs listed as “threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species
Act. But NWF has since March 1998 ignored repeated inquiries from
ANIMAL PEOPLE as to whether it has asked members and affiliated
organizations to refrain from sponsoring or participating in prairie
dog and ground squirrel killing contests.

Cornerstone species

Occupying just a fraction of their original range, prairie
dogs are now known to be the cornerstone species upon which many
other western species depend for food and habitat. The endangered
blackfooted ferret, for instance, can only survive among prairie
dog colonies. The most nutritious wild grasses and legumes of the
high plains grow best where nibbling by prairie dogs and/or
Richardson’s ground squirrels stimulates earlier and heavier
production of grain heads.
Contrary to common belief among ranchers, hooved animals
including bison, elk, pronghorn, and wild horses are best
nourished in the presence of abundant prairie dogs and ground
squirrels, and cattle and sheep could be, too, if prairie dogs and
ground squirrels were not determinedly killed wherever found in
pastures.
Prairie dogs and ground squirrels are still under frequent
attack in the U.S., as well as Canada, but more quietly since the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported in February 2000 that the
most common variety, the black-tailed prairie dog, is eligible for
consideration as a threatened species. As all other varieties are
scarcer, all are by implication at risk.
The wildlife and agriculture departments in 11 western states
have been working ever since on strategies to prevent federal
protection of prairie dogs and ground squirrels– which is still
strictly a hypothetical possibility, since the Fish and Wildlife
Service assigned the lowest possible priority to actually considering
listing prairie dogs for protection.
In late February 2002, the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and
Parks Commission agreed to prohibit shooting black-tailed prairie
dogs on federal land in much of the state during March, April, and
May, to keep the population up on the property under federal
jurisdiction. Shooting prairie dogs at any time is now prohibited on
the 25,000-acre Bureau of Land Management tract that is the Montana
designated reintroduction site for blackfooted ferrets. Prairie dogs
may still be targeted at will on Montana state and private land.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission agreed in late February
to undertake a prairie dog inventory.
The Conservation Alliance of the Great Plains asked the
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to list prairie dogs as a “species
in need of conservation,” described by Joe Duggan of the Lincoln
Journal Star as “the first step in setting shooting seasons or
regulating extermination.”
Until January 2002, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
estimated that prairie dogs occupy from 65,000 to 80,000 acres of the
state, but two years of study by University of Nebraska at Lincoln
School of Natural Resources graduate student Zachary Roehrs has
determined that prairie dogs actually occupy only 27,000 to 44,000
acres.
In Colorado, Boulder County district judge Frank Dubofsky on
January 14 ruled that the state Division of Wildlife “has failed to
enforce existing laws, educate law enforcement officers, and police
the nuisance wildlife control companies who gas prairie dog burrows,”
summarized Denver Post environment writer Theo Stein.
Ruling on behalf of a petition filed by Rocky Mountain Animal
Defense, Dubofsky objected that in the five years since the
voter-approved Initiative 14 should have protected prairie dogs to
some extent, “not one citation has been issued for the unlawful
poisoning of protected species while poisoning prairie dogs. It is
estimated that upward of 10,000 such exterminations have occurred.”
Noting that Dubofsky did not actually order the Division of
Wildlife to start enforcing the law, RMAD executive director Dave
Crawford told Denver Rocky Mountain News staff writer Owen S. Good
that, “We’ll save the champagne for the appeal.”
The Colorado Division of Wildlife has committed $600,000 to a
program to pay landowners to protect prairie dog habitat. Wrote Theo
Stein, “Landowners able to enroll a minimum of 160 acres who have at
least 40 acres of active prairie dog habitat” in four specific
districts may “offer the Division a per-acre bid. Bidders who offer
the best habitat at the least cost will be accepted into the
program,” which is “supported by lottery funds.”
Prairie dog poisonings and gassings by the Boulder Valley
School District and T-REX transportation development program in the
Denver area recently proceeded in part because landowners could not
be found who were willing to accept relocated colonies.

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