USDA official tours predator control projects in Johnson CoWritten by Christy Martinez
Johnson County – “We have the best pilots in the country,” said Wildlife Services (WS) Wyoming State Director Rod Krischke of the five men his agency uses in the state to fly the planes used in coyote control operations.
One of those pilots was on hand July 13 when USDA Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Ed Avalos spent time in Johnson County, making a few tour stops and hearing specific issues of concern to Wyoming’s sheep industry, most of which were related to predator control and the importance of WS.
The first stop on Avalos’s tour was the Purdy Ranch south of Buffalo, where a bright yellow WS airplane and an on-the-ground trapper worked in conjunction to try to present a live demonstration of aerial coyote control to the Undersecretary.
Although the coyote that had been spotted earlier that morning left the country before the tour group arrived, Avalos was able to hear first-hand accounts from fellow tour participants on the importance of funding for the airplanes.
“The scenario when we bring an airplane to a ranch is usually one of two things – it’s calving or lambing season or the rancher is moving livestock to a place that hasn’t been hunted before, or the ranch is actually having coyotes kill livestock,” said WS Southeast District Supervisor Craig Acres. “That constitutes a call from a cooperator, saying it’s that time of year when he’s had problems before, or he’s found a fresh kill.”
Acres said that, if a wildlife specialist, or trapper, is familiar with the area, it doesn’t take much time to scout or locate coyotes before the plane comes.
“If they’ve been in the area before, they have a good idea of where the coyotes will be and how they travel across the ranch,” said Acres, adding that coordination calls are made the night before the hunt, at the minimum between the trapper and pilot, communicating about weather and where both will be.
“Usually trappers will have the coyotes spotted, or have them howling, and they’ll put the plane right in the spot where they’ve seen or heard them,” said Acres.
“Unless the county has a trapper, this is about the only tool we have in terms of being effective,” said Wyoming Wool Growers Association Executive Vice President Bryce Reece, who led the tour. “We have five airplanes in Wyoming right now, and they’re busy all the time. We have a big state with lots of country, and there would be no way for the trappers to cover the country on the ground.”
Krischke said one thing that’s particularly valuable about the airplane is its selectivity.
“We have wolves, grizzly bears and black-footed ferrets, among other things, and the value of the airplane is that we can address problems and identify every animal that’s taken,” he noted.
“This is selective – they won’t shoot anything but that coyote,” said Reece.
After taking a ride himself in the airplane, Avalos and the tour group proceeded to Buffalo, where Johnson County officials explained their rabies management strategy, which consists of trapping skunks around the outskirts of town.
The group was treated to lunch at the historic TA Ranch south of Buffalo before settling into the restored granary for an educational afternoon. Avalos first heard from Brad Boner of the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative/Mountain States Rosen about the co-op’s take on the new Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule.
“The rule uses words such as ‘fair’ and ‘unfair,’ which open a legal Pandora’s box. The overly broad terms are one reason why your agency’s had so many comments,” said Boner, who also mentioned unintended consequences, regulatory mandates to decrease costs to businesses and a rule that would have prevented the co-op from forming, had it been in place a few years back.
“We appreciate the fact that there are some things to be corrected, but be specific to those things, instead of overreaching and broad,” said Boner.
Avalos responded, saying that in New Mexico, where he came from, he was a general contractor, and that he understands what it’s like to have regulations change on an annual basis.
“We were mandated by the farm bill to change the 90-year-old law, and I understand that, when nothing has really been changed for 90 years, people are concerned about how the changes will impact their livelihood, operations and the futures of their kids, and for good reason,” he stated.
“We just had a hearing July 7, and I think we got the message across. The proposed rule is a proposed rule – a starting point. In it we included things Congress told us to put in, and other components that they didn’t,” he continued. “We received over 60,000 comments, and we’re listening. Those comments will direct what we come up with at the end.”
“I can tell everybody in this room that there will be modifications to the proposed rule, but I can’t go into details. I understand the problem with cooperatives and the unintended consequences,” he said, also emphasizing that he and Secretary Vilsack are strong supporters of value-added marketing, and supporters of incentives for producers who do a better job than average.
Avalos also heard from various Wyoming players about state predator control, predator control projects for antelope and deer and the ongoing Big Horn Basin study looking at predators’ affect on nesting sage grouse, among other topics, such as the importance of livestock protection dogs to the Wyoming sheep industry.
Of WS as a whole, Reece said his concern is that Wyoming is 50 percent federally owned, and WS is the only entity with predator control activities on federal lands, which operates under an MOU.
“Ninety percent of the sheep in Wyoming spend some portion of their time on some federal piece of property,” said Reece. “Having a strong WS presence in this state benefits all counties and all programs, even if they don’t directly cooperate with WS.”