A rugged, whitewater river flowing northward through deep canyons, the New River is among the oldest rivers on the continent. New River Gorge National River in West Virginia encompasses over 70,000 acres of land along the New River, is rich in cultural and natural history, and offers an abundance of scenic and recreational opportunities.
Big Southern Butte is one of two domes rising from a sea of basalt near the center of the eastern Snake River Plain in Idaho. The butte is one of the largest volcanic domes in the world, but at 300,000 years old it is also one of the youngest. Hikers who trek to the 7,550-foot high summit are rewarded with spectacular panoramic views. Photo by Devin Englestead, BLM Upper Snake Wildlife Biologist.
First light at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Established in November 22, 1939, the refuge has provided a critical stopover and wintering spot for thousands of sandhill cranes, geese and other waterfowl for 75 years. Bosque del Apache's sandhill crane population has multiplied from 18 birds in the 1840s to more than 20,000 birds today. Photo by Kim Hang Dessoliers (www.sharetheexperience.org).
Thank you for the opportunity to present the Administration's views on S. 2875, the "Gray Wolf Livestock Loss Mitigation Act of 2008". For the reasons outlined below, the Administration opposes this legislation.
On February 27, 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published a final rule to remove the gray wolf population in the northern Rocky Mountains from the Federal list of threatened and endangered species. In doing so, the Service announced that the wolf had exceeded its numerical, distributional, and temporal recovery goals every year since 2002, and that the States of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming had made strong commitments to maintain wolf populations well above minimum recovery levels. The delisting was effective March 28, 2008.
Since the time of its reintroduction, wolf depredation of livestock has been a concern among some landowners and grazing permittees. The Service, Tribes, State fish and wildlife agencies in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, and USDA Wildlife Services currently work together to investigate and respond to reports of suspected wolf damage to livestock. The States and Tribes have signed cooperative management agreements with USDA Wildlife Services to assist them with wolf management. The States also have laws to protect private property from damage caused by wildlife that are similar to the Federal experimental population regulations that were in effect while wolves were listed. Under those laws, landowners and grazing permittees will be able to shoot wolves attacking or molesting their domestic animals, just as they now can shoot resident black bears or mountain lions that are seen attacking or harassing their livestock.
Since 1987, a private group, the Defenders of Wildlife, has paid nearly $900,000 for livestock and herding and guarding animals killed by wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. However, it is uncertain if that private compensation program will continue now that wolves are delisted. Therefore, the States of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, as well as adjacent states, anticipate that State-administered compensation programs for wolf damage will complement or take the place of the Defenders program after delisting.
The "Gray Wolf Livestock Loss Mitigation Act" authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to provide grants to states and Indian tribes to pay a share of the cost of programs to compensate livestock producers for actions to reduce the risk of predation and for losses due to predation. The bill sets out eligibility requirements, provisions for allocation of funding, and provides for a maximum Federal cost share of 50 percent.
In our view, for predator compensation and damage mitigation to be effective components of wildlife conservation strategies, such programs must seek to accomplish specific goals that contribute to the overall strategy. Further, incentives to private landowners must operate on clear bases of fact and performance so as to maintain the credibility and fairness of expenditures. The program proposed in S. 2875 falls short of both these requirements and, because of its broad scope, it could also be unacceptably expensive and difficult to implement. As wolf management is now a matter for the State governments, whether and how to use compensation programs to advance State management goals is most appropriately for State governments to decide. We are concerned, however, that the proposed program would privilege for Federal cost-sharing purposes a particular approach, financial compensation for damage, to a specific conservation issue, human-predator conflict, regardless of the conservation priorities identified by the States.
Another of the Administration's major concerns with the legislation is its broad scope, which would cover a wide range of predatory species and livestock losses. The bill defines a "predatory species" as "gray wolves, grizzly bear, and other predatory species, as determined by the Secretary." Other predators that cause livestock damage could include mountain lion, golden eagle, black bear, coyote, fox, and many types of predatory birds. In the Northern Rocky Mountains of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho alone, the Service estimates that there are over 1,000 grizzly bears, several thousand mountain lions and golden eagles, and tens of thousands of black bear, coyotes, fox, and raptors. All of these animals are capable of causing livestock losses due to predation, or necessitating some type of preventative measure that reduces the risk of livestock loss.
Because compensation programs generally require a rapid on-site inspection and physical confirmation of the purported damage by professional independent observers, such a broad program would result in a significant workload for the agency administering the program. In addition, the program would require Federal oversight and management of some predatory species that are currently under state management, such as mountain lions, black bear, and coyotes. In regard to its geographic application, the bill refers specifically to Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, but indicates that it also applies to "other States and Indian tribes as the Secretary determines." Because nearly every state contains predators that cause livestock damage, the program outlined in S. 2875 would potentially have nationwide application.
Existing programs to compensate and mitigate for damage caused by wildlife are varied and exceedingly complex. Although the Federal government has worked with states, tribes, and non-governmental organizations in order to conduct agency management activities to reduce and mitigate the risk of damage to agriculture by wildlife, including livestock loss due to wolf predation, it has never provided monetary compensation for losses caused by wildlife.
Numerous state and private compensation and mitigation programs for other types of wildlife damage (i.e., in addition to wolves) already exist in the United States. Damage caused by other predators such as black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions and wild ungulates is paid in Wyoming and Idaho by State-run compensation programs. Other compensation programs pay for agricultural damage caused by wildlife such as elk and deer (the amount of damage by predators is typically much lower than that caused by ungulates or migratory birds). Consideration should also be given to whether creating additional programs to pay the public for predator damage might increase expectations for compensation for damage done by non-predatory wildlife as well, or might create incentives to raise livestock in areas with predators. In addition, depending on the scope of this bill, wildlife agencies in other states may have concerns that a Federal compensation program for wildlife damage may compete for limited state match funding and may negatively impact funding for higher priority state wildlife conservation programs. It is our belief that most states will not have the resources to participate in such a program.
Finally, we note that the program contemplated by S. 2875 would support activities that are within the authority of another Federal agency rather than within the Service's core mission to work with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. Such a program could duplicate activities and overlap with other Federal agency programs.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. We would be happy to answer any questions you might have.