TWIN FALLS, Idaho • A plan to kill 4,000 ravens by feeding them poisoned chicken eggs has been scuttled this year because of delays in a federal agency’s environmental permitting process.
This spring, Idaho Fish and Game began parts of its two-year raven control program aimed at boosting sage grouse numbers. But wildlife managers could not poison the ravens without its partner, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services.
Wildlife Services is the only entity in Idaho with permission to administer the poison — DRC-1339, said to only kill birds of the corvid family, such as crows, ravens and magpies.
Wildlife Services did not get its supplemental environmental assessment completed on time, missing the spring field season, said Jeff Gould, Wildlife Bureau Chief Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Fish and Game won’t set the poison out over the summer as the ravens won’t be gathered en masse as they usually do when sage grouse are nesting in the spring, he said.
Despite the delay, protests of conservationists and concerns from bird scientists, Gould said Fish and Game will start the poisoning next spring.
This year, Fish and Game hoped to kill thousands of ravens in three areas of Idaho, but only shot 10 adult ravens as they descended on roadkill and other carrion, and smashed 15 nests, he said.
Fish and Game hopes the culling will boost sage grouse populations because ravens eat sage grouse eggs. Raven population numbers increased throughout Idaho and the West as rural farmers and ranchers create habitat and food for them.
On orders from the Idaho Legislature, Fish and Game secured a two-year permit to kill as many as 4,000 ravens near Idaho National Laboratory in Arco, the Curlew National Grasslands, and in Washington County near the Oregon border. The Legislature funded the project with $100,000.
Populations of sage grouse, a chicken-sized bird being considered as an endangered species, declined more steeply in those three areas than elsewhere in the state, Fish and Game reported. But wildlife managers weren’t sure killing the ravens would have a lasting benefit to sage grouse. They said the program was justified as research.
“We’re pretty sure that once you remove a territorial pair of ravens, somebody else is going to move right in,” Ann Moser, Fish and Game wildlife biologist told the Times-News in early April.
About 62,000 people from around the world signed an online petition to stop the raven-killing program.
Norm Coyer, a commenter from Oregon, pleaded with Idaho to stop its “genocide” of wolves and ravens.
“This is a terrible, cruel and arrogant solution. This program will bring shame and embarrassment to your beautiful state,” wrote Gary Wrasse, of Colorado. “Please engage the Audubon Society for their expertise. My family’s next ski trip will not be to Sun Valley!”
Idaho resident Gretchen Vanek called the plan “despicable” and labeled it “nothing but politics, without a shred of science to back it up.”
Said Cormaël Lia, of the Netherlands, “Are you freaking serious?”
The project has also drawn the ire of local, state and national conservation organizations, several of which in late April sent a letter of protest to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
The letter was signed by Advocates for the West, the American Bird Conservancy, Idaho Conservation League, Prairie Falcon Audubon Society, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, Western Watersheds Project and National Audubon Society.
The groups said the plan “fails the most basic principles of scientific investigation” and “ignores the central threat to greater sage grouse habitat and populations throughout Idaho (such as) wildfire, weeds, fragmentation and livestock grazing.“
The organizations also attached a letter written by Dr. Clait Braun, a sage grouse expert and former chair of Wildlife Services’ National Advisory Committee.
Braun wrote that the project is “without merit” as it “lacks scientific controls and (has) no scientific way to measure success of the project.“
“No benefit to recruitment of breeding populations of the species is expected,” she wrote.
Braun also points out the program shifts blame of sage grouse declines away from habitat degradation toward predation, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not consider a major factor in the sage grouse’s decline.
“This project is unprofessional, indefensible, any results will not be credible and there is no real science involved,” she wrote.
Gould said he has heard such concerns about the program, but said Fish and Game will not re-examine its actions. He said they do not want to make “presumptions ahead of time.”
“It is important for us to be able to evaluate this,” he said. “There’s plenty of people who weighed in at that level, but predation has always been one of the factors that is part of the ecology. … This can help.”