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Federal Program Killing Beavers In Oregon Suspended To Assess Impact On ESA-Listed Salmon, Steelhead
Posted on Friday, January 12, 2018 (PST)

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 science.”

 

“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 management activities.

 

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.

 

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