A federal program aimed at killing beavers and
other aquatic mammals that cause damage on private properties in Oregon has
been suspended to allow for an assessment of how the program might impact
endangered salmon and steelhead.
Wildlife Services, part of the U.S. Department
of Agriculture, suspended the program this week in response to a notice of
intent to sue by two environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity
and Northwest Environmental Advocates.
“The feds’ commitment to stop killing Oregon
beavers is good news for beavers, salmon and all of us who care about these
animals,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist with the Center for
Biological Diversity. “We’ll keep the pressure on Wildlife Services and make
sure that beavers are protected, not persecuted.”
The groups cite “numerous studies” showing
beavers benefit endangered salmon and steelhead by creating ponds that provide
fish with food and habitat.
“Despite these well-established ecological
benefits, Wildlife Services killed hundreds of beavers annually with traps,
snares and firearms,” the groups state in a Jan. 10 press release. In 2016,
Wildlife Services killed more than 400 beavers — the official state animal and
the mascot for Oregon State University.
Wildlife Services intends to prepare a
biological assessment by Feb. 28 through a consultation process with the
National Marine Fisheries Service, which is charged with recovery of endangered
salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin.
“It’s way past time for Wildlife Services to
recognize the unique and essential role that beavers play in building habitat
upon which so many other animals depend,” said Nina Bell, director of Northwest
Environmental Advocates. “We are pleased that Wildlife Services is moving
toward compliance with federal law and paying attention to well-established
“It is well established that beavers are
critically important to healthy ecosystems, so it makes little sense for
Wildlife Services to kill them without understanding the consequences of its
actions,” said Andrew Hawley of the Western Environmental Law Center. “We will
continue to pursue the steps necessary to ensure Wildlife Services ends the
taxpayer-funded open season on beavers in Oregon.”
The groups charged, in part, that the
government has failed to ensure that its aquatic mammal damage management
activities in Oregon are “not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of
endangered fish and wildlife,” and that the program has not initiated required consultation
with other agencies to determine if endangered salmonids are hindered by those
The groups say Wildlife Services should be
obliged to carry out consultation in order to present “reasonable and prudent”
alternatives to lethal control of aquatic mammals so that harm to endangered
fish and wildlife is minimized.
In its response to a notice of intent to sue,
Wildlife Services pointed out that it did engage in consultation with the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Services regarding potential impacts to bull trout, a species
of sucker fish, the Lahontan cutthroat trout and the Oregon Spotted Frog. The
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concurred with the lethal management activities
in regard to impacts on those species.
But the groups allege that no such
consultation was conducted regarding impacts on 11 salmonid species.
Wildlife Services acknowledged that in its
response, including a recent request for consultation with the National Marine
Fisheries Service to assess potential impacts on the salmonid species.
The response goes on to say that it “has
ceased all aquatic mammal damage management activities in Oregon related to
damage caused by beaver, river otter, muskrat and mink out of an abundance of
caution to ensure compliance” with the ESA.
The program, however, will have exceptions for
control of aquatic mammals under certain circumstances involving Nutria, a
non-native, invasive beaver-like mammal that is present in parts of Oregon.
The conservation groups also contend the
Oregon aquatic mammal management program was developed in violation of the
National Environmental Policy Act, but Wildlife Services says the pending
consultation will be in compliance with NEPA and the ESA.