Conservation Groups Call on Federal Agencies to Halt Plan to Kill 4,000 Ravens

(Washington, D.C., May 5, 2014) The Idaho Department of Fish and Game's (IDFG) plan to increase numbers of Greater Sage-Grouse by poisoning up to 4,000 Common Ravens—a species that has been shown to only
minimally impact grouse populations—has drawn objections from conservation groups, which have signed letters to Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Dan Ashe and Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) Tom Vilsack, calling for the two organizations to halt the effort. FWS approved the poisoning plan developed by USDA at the request of IDFG.

In addition to sending the letters, a citizen petition opposing the plan has been sent to Butch Otter, Governor of Idaho, and Virgil Moore, Director of Idaho Fish and Game. The petition contains over 40,000 signatures.

Both letters make similar points in opposition to the bird poisoning plan. The letter to the USDA asks that the agency “… abandon its ill-conceived project to poison … up to 4,000 ravens in Idaho, and turn its attention to more pressing demands designed to reduce sage-grouse depredation, including improving habitat, quickly removing carrion on the public lands, and other measures.”

“These local, regional, and national conservation groups are requesting Secretary Vilsack to abandon USDA's raven-killing experiment as unwise, unnecessary, and unlawful,” said Todd C. Tucci, Senior Attorney for Advocates for the West.  “We are happy to work with USDA in a constructive manner to address the causes of the sage-grouse population crash, but scapegoating birds is not the solution,” he said.

In the letter to FWS Director Ashe, the signees ask, among other things, that “… FWS develop a rigorous and transparent agency-wide policy on the issuance of raven control permits that better reflects the agency's commitment to using the best available science to support range-wide conservation planning.”

“When science does not support the poisoning of ravens—which like most birds is a protected species in this country—for Greater Sage-Grouse conservation, we are left to scratch our heads as to ‘why' Common Ravens are becoming a scapegoat, while the key factors driving grouse declines remain unaddressed,” said Michele Crist, President of Golden Eagle Audubon Society.

The signees assert that the “… proposal and environmental assessment fails the most basic principles of scientific investigation; ignores the central threats to Greater Sage-Grouse habitat and populations throughout Idaho (wildfire, weeds, fragmentation and livestock grazing); fails to fully examine the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of using the avicide DRC-1339 across the southern Idaho landscape; and will fail to achieve any replicable and tenable scientific conclusions on the impact of raven control on sage-grouse nest success.”

In the proposal's Environmental Assessment, the USDA admits that raven predation is not a “significant range-wide threat” to Greater Sage-Grouse. The Conservation Plan for the Greater Sage-Grouse in Idaho similarly concludes that raven predation was not a “priority threat to sage-grouse statewide.” In addition, the FWS 2013 Conservation Objectives Team Report similarly ranks raven predation as the 17th highest threat to Greater Sage-Grouse populations. The U.S. Geological Survey reached the same conclusions in a recent report, concluding that “there is little published support for (raven) predation being a limiting factor in sage-grouse populations.”

Last, Dr. Clait Braun, a leading sage-grouse expert and past Chair of a USDA National Advisory Committee, says that this project “is not well designed nor scientifically supported, especially because the project lacks scientific controls and no scientific way to measure success of the project. … this project should be expected to pass stringent tests of scientific justification and compelling logic. Unfortunately, it fails those tests.”

“Remarkably, only three percent of Greater Sage-Grouse habitat has protections from extensive grazing or energy infrastructure development. Changing that should be the focus of new management plans,” said Steve Holmer, Senior Policy Advisor at American Bird Conservancy (ABC).

The letter to Secretary Vilsack was signed by officials from ABC, National Audubon Society, Advocates for the West, Prairie Falcon Audubon Society, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, Western Watersheds Project, and the Idaho Conservation League.

The letter to FWS Director Dan Ashe was signed by officials from ABC, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, Snake River Audubon Society, Western Watersheds Project, Conservation Congress, Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, Fort Collins Audubon Society, and Foothills Audubon Club of Colorado.