Coyote control measures impractical for farms

While the coyote catalog might seem like a practical solution for both landowners and hunters, there are unintended consequences that result from using lethal control measures on coyote populations.

My husband and I run 300 mother cows that calve in pastures alongside coyote packs and other predators. We use only non-lethal livestock protection methods and I can’t remember the last time we lost a calf to predation.

I am also on the advisory board of Project Coyote, a national coalition of ranchers and scientists working to foster coexistence between people and wildlife.

The prophylactic killing of coyotes might make ranchers feel like they are doing something to protect their livestock, but numerous studies have proven the exact opposite to be true. Coyotes biologically respond to hunting pressures by having more pack members breed, and in turn have larger litters in which more pups survive.

These packs that are fractured by hunting also leave juvenile coyotes orphaned, and thus more likely to come into conflict with pets and livestock.

Furthermore, we now know that while killing coyotes might offer short-term relief in terms of their numbers in certain areas, it also creates a vacuum in which the newly opened territory eventually draws new coyotes in to fill it.

This creates the endless war between wildlife and ranchers that has been waging for decades at untold cost to taxpayers, ranchers, wildlife and the environment.

There are many effective, non lethal methods available to protect sheep and cattle. These methods are being used successfully around wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions, on ranches from California to Northern Alberta and everywhere in between.

Livestock guardian animals, lambing pens, range riders, electric fencing, running sheep and cattle together, and fladry are just a few of the options available to ranchers. These methods, or sometimes a combination of them, lower and often eliminate conflicts with predators.

This allows the development of a stable coyote population which, studies show, manage their own numbers quite well. They also provide a free, eco-friendly pest control service to those lucky enough to live within their boundaries.

If left alone, coyotes might also eliminate the need for the other catalog system that is now being used to control deer numbers.

As consumers become more educated about the effects their food choices have on the environment, the spotlight is on the ranching industry to prove we have the ability to be responsible stewards of the land. By forcing consumers to choose between our livestock and wildlife, we only succeed in creating more vegans and vegetarians.

The livestock industry needs to change the way we treat predators and other wildlife, not only so we can improve our reputation with the public, but because it is the right thing to do.

Editor’s note: Hendricks owns and runs Bar C R Ranch with her husband in Petaluma, Calif., and is an advisory board member of Project Coyote.

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Grassland butterflies in rapid decline in Europe

Two decades of plummeting population halves number of key species, adversely affecting bees, birds and biodiversity – study

, environment correspondent

Common vlue butterfly

Of the 17 species of butterlies found in Europe, eight have declined, including the common blue, above. Photograph: Getty

Europe‘s grassland butterfly population has plummeted in the past two decades, new research published on Tuesday shows, with a near halving in the numbers of key species since 1990.

The precipitous decline has been blamed on poor agricultural practices and pesticides, by the European Environment Agency, which carried out the research. Falling numbers of butterflies are bad news not just for nature-lovers and for biodiversity, but have a knock-on effect on farming, as – like bees – they act as pollinators, and their disappearance harms birds and other creatures that need them for food.

Butterfly populations are a leading indicator of the health of other insect species. The new study therefore suggests many other species of insect, which are also food sources for birds and small mammals, and which play a key role in the health of the countryside, are also under threat.

Scientists from the EEA, the European Unoin’s environment watchdog, looked at 17 key species of grassland butterflies, of which seven were common species and 10 more specialist, using data gathered from 1990 to 2011 in 19 European countries. Of the total 17 species, eight have declined, including the common blue, which has suffered a serious fall in numbers; two species remained stable, including the Orangetip; and only one increased. The trend for the remaining six species is still uncertain, including the much-appreciated Lulworth skipper, beloved of butterfly watchers.

Grassland butterflies make up the majority of butterflies in Europe, with over 250 species out of the more than 400 found in Europe. Others species prefer to colonise woods, wetlands, heaths and other habitats. Chris van Swaay, one of the authors of the report, from the Dutchconservation organisation De Vlinderstichting, said that the same pesticides that affect bees – leading to the EU to ban certain products, at least temporarily – also have an effect on butterflies. “The pesticide problem is especially a problem in the intensive agricultural areas of western Europe,” he said. “In eastern Europe, it is less of a problem.”

Grassland species are also particularly important because so much of EU land is given over to agriculture: if butterflies cannot thrive on farmland, they will suffer dramatic declines. The EEA warned that as a result of intensive practices, with the aggressive use of pesticides and other chemicals, the loss of hedgerows, field margins and other semi-wild areas, as well as the monocultures prevailing in many areas and the rapid turnover of land, many large areas of farmed land are becoming “sterile” in terms of biodiversity.

The EEA, which worked with conservation charities such as Butterfly Conservation Europe to put together the European grassland butterfly indicator, said that in some areas of affluent north-western Europe, agriculture had become so intensive that butterflies are now confined to marginal land such as road and rail verges and even urban gardens, as well as the small proportion of farmland that is managed with environmental aims in mind.

Hans Bruyninckx, executive director of the EEA, said: “This dramatic decline in grassland butterflies should ring alarm bells – in general Europe’s grassland habitats are shrinking. If we fail to maintain these habitats we could lose many of these species forever. We must recognise the importance of butterflies and other insects – the pollination they carry out is essential for both natural ecosystems and agriculture.”

Perhaps surprisingly, intensive agriculture is not the only threat to butterflies – the abandonment of previously cultivated agricultural land, in central and southern Europe, is also a problem when it results in the neglect of key grassland habitats. When farmland is abandoned, it rapidly turns to scrub, and Europe’s grassland butterfly species have evolved over millennia to live on grassland, including land under old forms of cultivation that were less intensive.

Paul de Zylva, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Bees, butterflies and pollinators in general are facing decline across Europe for the same reasons – loss of habitat, intensive farming and the use of pesticides. Unfortunately the recently reformed Common Agricultural Policy is worse for wildlife than its predecessor. European governments must stop using tax-payers’ money to prop up a farming system that isn’t doing enough to protect nature and biodiversity.”


Clearing more land: We all lose

Last week the Queensland parliament passed laws relaxing land clearing and opening up national parks to cattle grazing. Victoria has proposed similar clearing changes. It’s no surprise more clearing is bad news for the environment, but it also has negative implications for farmers and the Federal budget.

Queensland’s changes

Widely debated legislation was passed in Queensland on May 21, 2013 allowing farmers to graze starving cattle in five of the state’s national parks and eight reserves until the end of 2013.

And big changes to the Vegetation Management Act 1999 were introduced through theVegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill 2013.

Despite an election promise by the current Queensland government, farmers can now clear remnant (virgin) vegetation for both dry land and irrigated high-value agriculture. Farmers can also clear high-value regrowth vegetation for routine management, such as fencing, without getting permits.

The Queensland Government argues the changes will restore balance and allow farmers to clear without unnecessary red tape. But restore balance with what exactly?

Over the past 10 years, Australia has been clearing land at rates similar to Brazil and Indonesia, losing over 900,000 hectares of forest a year between 2005 and 2010. Around 75% to 80% of that clearing happened in Queensland. The changes to the Vegetation Management Act mean large parts of the remaining native bush and regrowth in Queensland could also disappear.

Why have vegetation management laws in the first place?

It’s important to understand how the Vegetation Management Act came about in the first place.

From the 1950s, Queensland’s landscape was changed dramatically as the government introduced several schemes and passed The Brigalow and Other Lands Development Act, removing large areas of brigalow forest for pasture improvement and cattle grazing. Most brigalow-dominated ecosystems are now endangered, with fewer than 10% remaining.

Due to growing concerns over the extent of clearing and its impacts on biodiversity, the Queensland government initiated the Vegetation Management Act 1999 to assess clearing on freehold land. Later amendments protected remnant vegetation and high value regrowth vegetation such as brigalow and native regrowth.

Is more land clearing actually good for farmers?

The current Queensland Government argues relaxing land clearing laws is better for farmers and better for their productivity. But what does this mean for a farmer long term?

Native vegetation plays an important role in supporting productive cropping, pasture and grazing land, vital to a farmer’s financial viability. Native vegetation and regrowth provide soil fertility through nutrients, regulate the salt levels of the soil, prevent erosion, and control invasive insects, plants and animals.

By clearing land and removing “carbon stocks”, farmers will also miss out on income opportunities under the Carbon Farming initiative.

Given previous law reversals, farmers may come out swinging under the new laws in fear of these laws being changed yet again. The worst outcome would be that clearing rates return to a rate similar, or greater to those carried out before the Vegetation Management Act was introduced.

How does land clearing affect the rest of us?

Evidence shows land clearing threatens Australia’s environment. It contributes to land degradationsalinity and declining water quality, damage to coastal marine zones,species extinctions and greenhouse emissions.

Land clearing leads to habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, exposing what’s left to fire and invasive pests such as weeds. Native regrowth is important for native animals and for increasing the size of remnant areas of vegetation, essential for preventing extinctions. This habitat loss and fragmentation is especially concerning for native animals such as koalas, which in Queensland have been recently added to the threatened species list.

Land clearing also leads to excess runoff, which has serious negative impacts for the Great Barrier Reef, marine ecosystems, and marine industries such as fisheries and tourism. Making it easier to clear vegetation flies in the face of the Reef Rescue program. This is a program set up by the Federal government to address declining water quality due to sediment, nutrient and pesticide runoff from agricultural land. A further $200 million ofextra funding was only just announced this year.

Where is the environmental and carbon accounting?

Governments need to justify their decisions economically. In this case, there has been no mention by the State government of the short and long-term environmental costs to all of the ecosystem services provided by vegetation: water quality, soil salinity, and soil fertility.

The Federal Coalition’s proposed plan to store carbon emissions in soil and trees may blow out by another $500 million a year if the 2 million hectares of land in Queensland is deforested over the next 10 years under these revised laws.

The Queensland government has taken a short-term view of how to increase productivity rather than looking at the long-term impacts this will have on the lands farmers rely on.

Victoria’s relaxed attitude towards land clearing

Victoria will also make changes to their land clearing laws. “Small” projects – such as a farmer removing a handful of native trees, or a home owner getting rid of trees to put in an extension – will no longer need an on-site survey.

For a decade, Victoria’s planning provisions have aimed to achieve a net gain in the quantity and quality of native vegetation in the state. From September, this will change to “no net loss in the contribution made by native vegetation to Victoria’s biodiversity”.

Victorian farmers will be able to buy offsets for the land clearing. While purchasing offsets will help the Federal and Coalitions carbon emissions budgets, it is hard to see how removing native vegetation will not mean losses to Victoria’s biodiversity.

Learning from the past to adapt for the future should be a central part of land management. Yet the changes in land clearing laws in Queensland and Victoria show a disregard for the large body of work and research that has been done on native vegetation clearing and the impacts this has on the land and ecosystems. This is bad for farmers and the environment.