Poisoning one bird to save another

This spring, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game will spend $100,000 to poison Ravens with “strategically placed” chicken eggs. The poison will only affect Corvids (Ravens, Crows, Magpies, etc.). Ravens are the biggest contributor to egg predation of Sage Grouse nests and the department claims Ravens have expanded their territory due to “human-related activities.” Structures such as power lines, houses, windmills, and water towers are results from human-related activities and provide nesting sites for Ravens.

In the attached article, the department states they are not sure Ravens are a cause for sage grouse population decline. They also say they are sure that once a pair of territorial Ravens is poisoned and killed it will immediately be replaced by another pair. Already, this sounds like a bad idea. Not only is the department releasing poison into the environment, they also don’t know if it will work!

Also in the article, Katie Fite, the biodiversity director for the Western Watersheds Project, says if there is a problem with egg predation, it isn’t because of the predator, but lack of cover for the nest. Sagebrush provides most of this cover for Sage Grouse and its depletion is caused mostly by cattle grazing. Fite believes poisoning Ravens is a project that dances around improving cattle grazing practices.

Cattle grazing is a sensitive topic between the government and ranchers. Some organizations such as the Sage Grouse Initiative and Pheasants Forever are already successfully working with ranchers to improve grazing practices, even in Idaho! These organizations are working with ranchers to prevent listing Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act by improving their population numbers. Preventing listing will help ranchers by preventing more regulation on public lands and sage grouse by improving their habitats.

While working with the BLM and interacting with ranchers in Oregon this past summer, I learned if you provide logical reasons and benefits to the public, the public will support and comply with government decisions. Also, I think when people don’t understand why a government agency is using a lot of money to implement an action they are less likely to obey regulations. Poisoning Ravens doesn’t seem logical and I don’t see a reason for why the Idaho Department of Fish and Game needs to implement this project or ignore combating cattle grazing. I think conducting such a project with tax dollars without further studies is very irresponsible for a government agency.


Sage grouse will benefit from Farm Bill provision

This past summer my Beyond the Classroom experience was spent doing an internship helping a PhD student conduct an ongoing research study on the effects of juniper removal on sage grouse distribution in Lake County, Oregon. As part of my Wildlife Biology curriculum, I wrote a ten-page research paper addressing the effects of energy development on sage grouse (which have the potential for listing under the Endangered Species Act) using primary literature. The issue fits into my Global Leadership Initiative theme of sustainability. While my experience and research was helpful, I think continuing to follow the issue is important at a local and national level. I will use these blog entries to share and express my thoughts on some of the articles and information I run across while following the issue.


The article above was printed in the Great Falls Tribune on February 4, 2014. It discusses the effects of a proposed “sodsaver” provision in the farm bill. Under the farm bill, the government pays about 62 percent of crop insurance premiums, which helps ensure farmers keep their way of living economically in case of a bad season. In areas where the government pays significantly less of a percentage for insurance premiums, farmers are much more unlikely to cultivate land for crops.

The sodsaver provision is, you could say, an amendment to the farm bill. This amendment will change the farm bill to cover only about 15 percent instead of 65 percent insurance premiums on crops if the crops are cultivated on virgin prairies in six states: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. Virgin prairies are those that have never been cultivated. This does not prevent farmers from cultivating these lands, it will only make it more risky because the insurance will be put up privately.

If you read the rest of the article and the following fact sheet you will see why I think the sodsaver provision is a logical move.

sodsaver factsheet _v5 03-07-2013

Even after seeing the economical savings and ecological importance, someone may ask, well, what about the farmers? As the article above also states, the high price of commodities is driving farmers to cultivate more and more land. But, virgin prairies that haven’t been cultivated, haven’t been cultivated for a reason. They aren’t very successful. So, in my mind, I ask: Why get minimal amount of crop while you’re destroying land? I’m sure there are plenty of reasons farmers could give me and I understand. I really do. I’ve seen the amount of work people put in when they live off the land and it isn’t easy and it isn’t pretty. But ruining a habitat for minimal profit doesn’t sound like the moral thing to do. It also isn’t a very efficient use of taxpayer money. With that said, I’ll bring in sage grouse.

Currently, the biggest threat to sage grouse is habitat loss to energy development and crop cultivation. In these states, the revised farm bill will decrease potential cultivation, and in this case sage grouse habitat loss. Not only will the sodsaver provision help sage grouse but also preserve grazing lands for cattle, which helps the ranching community. I think the provision is a great compromise between economics and conservation. It should show as an example for future legislation.

So far, the revised farm bill has passed through the House of Representatives and is on its way to the Senate. I would love to see it passed as a proactive step forward by the federal government.