When some ranchers use poison -- just like the old days

  • Ted Williams

 

"Biocides" was Rachel Carson's term for pesticides that kill indiscriminately. They haven't been much talked about since the banning of DDT and relatives in the 1970s – until now.

As Pete Gober, who heads the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's effort to save the black-footed ferret, America's most endangered mammal, put it recently:  "The incredibly dumb things we did 40 years ago are coming full circle." Had I heard of a biocide called Rozol? I had not.

Rozol makes creatures that ingest it bleed from every orifice and stagger around for the week or two or three it takes them to die, attracting predators and scavengers.  Whatever eats the anticoagulant-laced victim dies, too.

Rozol was registered for black-tailed-prairie dog control in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming by George W. Bush's EPA and, in May 2009, by Barack Obama's EPA in the rest of the range -- Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

Now, this biocide is killing golden eagles, bald eagles, ferruginous hawks, owls, magpies, turkey vultures, badgers, swift foxes, coyotes, raccoons, red-winged blackbirds, wild turkeys, and almost certainly, ferrets.

Because Rozol-poisoned prairie dogs leave their burrows, people who apply the poison are legally required to return and bury carcasses. They don't and would find few carcassesif they did.  As one applicator told Gober, "You put it out and you go fishing."

Prairie dogs have been eliminated from 95 percent of their habitat, and where cattle aren't overstocked there's no evidence they compete with them for grass.  Moreover, prairie dogs benefit or sustain at least 150 vertebrate species including ferrets, which can't exist without them.

But Gober's agency isn't asking ranchers to stop killing prairie dogs, only to poison them with the more selective alternative, zinc phosphide.  It's cheaper and easier to use -- if you assume that applicators actually take the time to obey the law and bury Rozol-contaminated carcasses.

"We've hammered EPA with our concerns about Rozol and about permitting it without consulting us on endangered species impacts," said Gober.  "They just blow us off."

Pressure for expanded Rozol use is intense. Whipped to a froth of fear and loathing by the Farm Bureau and county commissions, property-rights zealots who hate all things federal save farm support are using Rozol to neutralize the Endangered Species Act and eliminate black-footed ferrets.

I found the best example in western Kansas where the Logan County Commission is exterminating ferrets and their food supply by inciting the public against prairie dogs and nuking ferret habitat with Rozol. In 2007, after a 50-year absence, ferrets were returned to Kansas because two brave and enlightened ranchers invited the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to use their properties near Russell Springs as a release site.

For protecting prairie dogs and welcoming ferrets, Larry Haverfield and Gordon Barnhardt have become local pariahs. Most of their neighboring ranchers filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against them for allegedly creating a regional prairie-dog infestation.

Because Rozol is so deadly to all wildlife, the law requires that it be placed inside prairie dog holes.  Instead, the county commission's applicator showed up uninvited on the Haverfield ranch, tossing Rozol-laced bait around like confetti.  The state has ordered him to pay a $2,800 fine.

When I visited commission chair Carl Uhrich, he made it clear that he hates black-footed ferrets at least as much as prairie dogs.  "Ranchers," he told me, "don't like having an endangered species because they bring all the federal rules with them.  We sent the Fish and Wildlife Service a copy of our resolution, and they just ignored it.  I said, ‘Well, you can take your ferrets and go home then.'"

The resolution, legally meaningless, wrongly calls ferrets "not indigenous" and proclaims "that no person or agency shall bring into Logan County one or more black-footed ferret or any…endangered species."

The commission has been harassing Haverfield and Barnhardt with meritless court actions. And it is vainly attempting to enforce an unconstitutional, century-old Kansas statute that authorizes it to enter private property "infested" with prairie dogs, "exterminate" them, then send the bill to the landowner.

Late last summer I joined Haverfield and Ron Klataske, the director of Audubon of Kansas, in a ferret survey organized by the Fish and Wildlife Service.  I operated the spotlight while Haverfield drove.  A few ferrets were seen by other volunteers, none by us.

"The surrounding landscape has been saturated with Rozol," remarked Klataske.  "If any ferrets left the property, chances are they're dead."

From the perspective of the county commission, Farm Bureau and most of the ranching community, that's the whole idea.

Ted Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes the Incite column for Audubon Magazine and lives in Massachusetts.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES GENERALIST
    Honor the Earth is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on identity. Indigenous people, people of color, Two-Spirit or LGBTQA+ people,...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Colorado Trout Unlimited seeks an individual with successful development experience, strong interpersonal skills, and a deep commitment to coldwater conservation to serve as the organization's...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Now hiring a full-time, remote Program Director for the Society for Wilderness Stewardship! Come help us promote excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...