Saving Sage Grouse: A misplaced blame game on Nevada's predators

Greater Sage Grouse

Recently, I wrote about the ecological importance of predators to their ecosystems and why NRDC is concerned with the practices of the predator control program administered by Wildlife Services.  As this agency is part of the US Department of Agriculture, most of its control actions are designed to aid the agricultural sector.  For example, badgers may be removed for digging holes and causing damage to cropland.  And wolves and coyotes are routinely killed for preying on livestock. 

We were surprised, however, to learn recently that Wildlife Services could soon be helping the state of Nevada eliminate predators for the purpose of boosting deer herds (for recreational sport hunting) and sage grouse (Hat tip: Ralph Maughan's Wildlife News). The Nevada Wildlife Commission is proposing to kill mountain lions, coyotes, badgers, skunks and ravens in an effort to increase the number of deer and sage grouse in certain counties within the state.

The greater sage grouse is an iconic species in the western states whose numbers have been declining primarily due to habitat loss and energy development.  They could certainly use some help – the only thing is that predators are not the problem. Even if they were, the Commission’s intentions in deploying predator control are not to help the sage grouse.  In fact, their intentions are quite the opposite.

The Nevada Wildlife Commission is proposing to temporarily boost sage grouse numbers (through predator control) to prevent the bird from receiving endangered species protections which the Commission fears would obstruct the development and use of public lands.  A recent news article paraphrases the vice-chairman of the Nevada Wildlife Commission (who is also a sportsman’s representative) as saying, “Protecting sage grouse from predators could prove critical to prevent (endangered species) listing of the bird and resulting widespread impacts across Nevada, Raine said. ‘It could affect everything on public land if this listing were to happen,’ Raine said. ‘It could hurt everything.’”

If the proposal is approved, Wildlife Services would be in the business of eliminating predators to ultimately endanger an already imperiled species by artificially boosting their numbers (while not addressing the actual threats to the sage grouse) in an effort to keep the bird from receiving the wildlife protections that it may need – not to mention catering to the special interests of hunting groups at the expense of natural predators and the ecosystem services that they provide.

While the state of Nevada would likely foot much of the bill for these actions, Wildlife Services is a federal agency. It is largely funded through taxpayer money – that’s right – yours and mine.  Is this how we want to put our dollars to work?