M-44 cyanide guns, bait-laden explosives that shoot clouds of cyanide crystals into animals’ faces when triggered, have never seen the inside of the nation’s designated wilderness areas, long protected by the 1964 Wilderness Act as places “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.”
But poison bait, helicopters and four-wheelers would all be allowed in designated wilderness to manage errant predators under a new Forest Service proposal open for comment through Aug. 7. Currently, regional foresters can approve predator management tools on a case-by-case basis when necessary to protect public safety or prevent serious loss of livestock, but poison bait and motorized use has always been banned. The proposed rule change would remove the case-by-case approach in favor of blanket approval to meet “management goals and objectives for wildlife” as established by as-yet-undefined “collaborative groups.” Also, instead of authorizing the killing of “offending individuals” when predator management is employed, the rule’s language has been expanded to include “local populations.”
Debbie Pressman, Forest Service national wildlife program leader, calls the changes a “housekeeping exercise” that alters the agency’s 1993 agreement with Wildlife Services, the Department of Agriculture program formerly called Animal Damage Control, to keep it consistent and updated.
But pressed to explain how doing away with case-by-case approval, long the signature management method for wilderness, and permitting poison bait for the first time are mere “housekeeping,” Pressman expands: “You point out a valid point; because we needed to go ahead and make changes for consistency, we’re also proposing other changes for consideration…it’s a judgment call on how significant people think these changes are.”
TinaMarie Ekker, policy director for Wilderness Watch in Missoula, sees the changes as extremely significant.
“It’s a radical change in national policy,” Ekker says, adding that she thinks the changes violate both the spirit and letter of the Wilderness Act and will be challenged in court. “They can agree to whatever they want, but they can’t implement it if it’s illegal.”