Travis Bruner: Restoration, not slaughter, is what will help sage grouse

June 3, 2014 

The Idaho Fish and Game Department's plan to poison or shoot up to 4,000 ravens in the state is appalling. It's a preposterous proposal to kill native wildlife under the guise of protecting sage grouse from ravens eating their eggs. With the blessing of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho will spend over $100,000 to kill the iconic raven, a bird long seen as a messenger of the gods. Meanwhile, the agencies seem to ignore threats to sage grouse, including the loss, degradation and fragmentation of its habitat caused by livestock grazing.

The raven slaughter is being disguised as a study on Greater sage grouse protection. However, recent reports rank predation as 17th of the 18 top threats faced by sage grouse, and ravens are just one of a number of species that prey on the eggs and hatchlings. Despite this, the government claims that poisoning and shooting raven adults, hatchlings and nestlings will protect sage grouse, although a field biologist with Fish and Game admitted that their theory emanates from "anecdotal information." This is insufficient evidence with which to kill thousands of wild animals.

Ravens are complex, emotional beings, and their careless annihilation through a government program is deeply disturbing. Expressive birds, ravens communicate happiness, surprise, anger, and tenderness through their calls. Ravens even persuade other wildlife to assist them in acquiring food.

Ravens and sage grouse have coexisted in the West for thousands of years. If the populations are out of balance with each other, the government should look at the causes tipping the scales. Ravens are attracted to livestock infrastructure such as corral and water tanks, and have an easier time hunting ground-dwelling birds such as sage grouse after cows and sheep have removed hiding cover. The government has decided to slaughter thousands of intelligent creatures rather than address the real threats to sage grouse. It may be easier to kill ravens than to limit livestock grazing, oil and gas development, exurban growth, and the spread of invasive weeds, but that doesn't make it right, and it won't bring back the sage grouse.

Upwards of 20,000 people have signed a petition opposing this irresponsible waste of public resources. Other such "raven control" programs are active and proposed in other Western states within the range of Greater sage grouse. Ravens aren't the problem, and killing them isn't the solution. It would be better to listen to the message ravens bear about unstable ecosystems, and work toward restoration rather than destroy our wild heritage.

Bruner is executive director of Western Watersheds Project, a national conservation group with a mission to restore Western watersheds and public lands for wildlife.

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