Forest rule could allow predator control, ATVs in wilderness areas
Consider this scenario: A hungry bear lurking at the edge of the Flat Tops Wilderness makes a habit of making an easy meal out of several sheep in a nearby rancher’s flock.Now considered a problem predator, the bear becomes the target of the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which may soon be authorized under a proposed Forest Service rule change to drive ATVs into wilderness areas to shoot or use pesticides to kill the bear. A similar scenario played out about three years ago in the White River National Forest when APHIS received permission to fly a helicopter into the Flat Tops Wilderness to hunt down a sheep-hungry bear. Though the bear was never found, it was the only time in Colorado the federal government tried to hunt a problem predator in a wilderness area as part of the Forest Service’s predator management program. Such hunts are rare, but they’re allowed by a memorandum of understanding between the Forest Service and APHIS that went into effect in 1993. The public comment period ends Monday for a proposed revision of that memo, published in the Federal Register June 7. The proposed revision would allow APHIS to kill problem predators in wilderness areas according to a predator control plan, rather than being approved by the regional forester on a case-by-case basis. The proposal says that predator control should be aimed only at animals that have killed livestock, present a public health risk or threaten endangered species. Though the rule discourages use of poison bait, APHIS can use it in extreme circumstances. APHIS would also be authorized to land aircraft and use motorized vehicles in wilderness areas – normally off-limits to any kind of mechanical vehicle – if the regional forester approves. Regional Forest Service spokesman Jim Maxwell said such measures would only be taken as a last resort. The Forest Service will only allow a predator to be hunted in a wilderness area if there’s evidence the animal is causing multiple deaths of livestock, he said. “Wilderness is the wildest wildlands we have,” Maxwell said. “Having predators out there is kind of the name of the game. What we totally want to avoid is any kind of impact on the population of predators as a whole.”Driving motorized vehicles into wilderness areas doesn’t conflict with the Wilderness Act, said Ralph Swain, Forest Service regional wilderness program manager. “Motorized use is not allowed on wilderness except for administrative purposes,” he said. “This would fall under one of the administrative purposes. Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, was skeptical of the program. “We’re concerned with any proposal that drives a wedge further into the Wilderness Act,” he said, adding that “littering” the wilderness with poisons that livestock and people can access “is just really stupid.””Wilderness is supposed to be self-managed land, not some bastardized version of what humans think wilderness should be,” he said. Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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