Why WC Remains an Environmental Activist

WC has never driven spikes in to trees designated for cutting. WC has never monkeywrenched,1 although sorely tempted a few times. But WC has been an environmental activist since high school.

One of the lessons of 50 years of environmental activism has been is that you have to watch the government very carefully. The folks charged with administering the environmental laws don’t always do their jobs. WC will illustrate this truth with three recent stories.

Parts of the Pend Oreille River are a lake, a reservoir, west of Sand Point, Idaho. The Albeni Falls Dam, just below Priest River, was built in 1951-1955. It’s an Army Corps of Engineers project, operated by the Bonneville Power Administration. Like a lot of reservoirs, it is used intensively for recreation. At the confluence of Carey Creek there is a Wildlife Management Area. Waves from motorboat wakes are eroding the south bank of the “river” at Carey Creek WMA. The erosion is also threatening archaeological sites of the Kalispel Indian Tribe. As always, the Corps of Engineers has reacted to the wave erosion problem by proposing to build something, a seawall, turning that stretch of the river/ reservoir into a glorified swimming pool.

To do that, they have to perform a National Environmental Protection act process, and Environmental Assessment. It’s fair to say that the Corps of Engineers is getting a little callow about compliance:

Draft Environmental Assessment, p. 28

Draft Environmental Assessment, p. 28

“Blah, blah, blah”? And typos through the whole paragraph? It doesn’t inspire confidence in the Corps’ work product. It doesn’t make you feel good about living downstream from a Corps of Engineers dam. It’s pretty certain there will be an amended Draft Environmental Assessment. Or a very embarrassing series of court hearings.

But if the Corps of Engineers is getting callow, the Wildlife Department of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is getting confrontational. The “Wildlife Services” would be more properly called the “Butcher Services,” because its primary activity for years has been to respond  to requests from Idaho livestock producers to kill or remove predators like coyotes that threaten or might threaten or could threaten their herds. Wildlife Services decided to expand its killing to include predators that might threaten games animals.2 It prepared an Environmental Assessment. The public comments and agency comments were . . . harsh. Other agencies with long experience and expertise in managing game animals and protected species: The Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, among others raised some very serious concerns.

Even the Idaho Fish & Game Department, a more big game-focused agency than even Alaska’s Board of Game, was very critical.

When Western Watersheds Project and others took Wildlife Services to court, and last week the court concluded:

Instead of studying these concerns in greater depth in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), Wildlife Services largely rejected these criticisms, finding that they were invalid for various reasons. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, an agency may use a convincing and objective analysis to reject criticisms and refuse to prepare a full EIS. But that was not done here. While Wildlife Services responded in detail to the criticisms, their reasons for rejecting them were not convincing and objective; the agency failed to take the required “hard look” at the concerns raised by the other agencies. Consequently, the Court finds that Wildlife Services acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in deciding not to prepare an EIS.


But once again, a federal agency, albeit a highly controversial one, was caught going through the motions instead of doing its job. Without environmentalists watching them carefully, they’d get away with it, too.

An M-44 cyanide device in Pocatello, Idaho. (Bannock County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

An M-44 cyanide device in Pocatello, Idaho. (Bannock County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

Wildlife Services is involved in the third incident, too. Canyon Mansfield, age 14, was playing with his golden lab, Casey, on a hillside behind his home outside of Pocatello, Idaho. They set off an M-44, a cyanide trap. Canyon was injured; Casey was killed. M-44s aren’t supposed to be used by Wildlife Services in Idaho. And they are supposed to be marked with signs. Yet there it was. M-44s are indiscriminate in who they kill. The traps are baited – smeared with meat or offal – and have killed endangered species like Mexican Gray Wolves, Grizzly Bears and even California Condors.

Again, before this happened Wildlife Services had said M-44s wouldn’t be used in Idaho. This particular death device was surrounded by houses. There was no notice. There were no warning signs. Wildlife Services has pledged all M-44s have been removed from Idaho. But then Wildlife Services had made that pledge before Casey was killed and Canyon was injured.

Why did these federal agencies break the law and their pledges? Because the Corps of Engineers sees its job as “building stuff,” not explaining why it should build stuff or what the impacts of building stuff will be. Wildlife Services, “Butcher Services,” sees it job as killing critters, not explaining why it should kill critters or the human and environmental impacts of doing so. It measures success by the number of dead coyotes. Not by having a comprehensive understanding of the role of coyotes in the wild. By-kills are “necessary.” Coyotes are “vermin.”

The federal government is indispensable to the goal of a healthy environment. But the federal government also has to be watched. Entrenched attitudes die slowly. All of which is one reason why WC remains an environmental activist.


  1. An interesting word, with two distinct etymologies and meanings. One meaning is an adjustable wrench.  The other comes from a delightful novel by Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang, where a motley gang of proto-environmentalists sabotage polluting, destructive equipment, to preserve their beloved southwestern deserts. WC intends the second meaning here. The claim that it is a wrench invented by African-American Jack Johnson. Racist Southerners disparagingly referred to it as a “monkey wrench” is an urban legend. 
  2. Wildlife Services killed more than 3,860 coyotes in Idaho alone in 2016. 

3 thoughts on “Why WC Remains an Environmental Activist

  1. Wonder what these folks tell their children when asked, “Daddy, what did you do at work today?”

  2. Thank You for keeping on keeping on! Yes Idaho Fish and Game is surprisingly environmentally friendly. Although they have been attacked from our legislature year after year because they have not “toed the line”. There funding has been artificially held back because of their “wrong focus on non game species and not protecting private property”. Other Idaho agencies including the Idaho State Department of Agriculture (under a previous director) had weighed in on the fed. Agriculture Departments Wildlife Services in appropriate use of various chemicals for unneeded lethal control of predators. The M-44 incident in Pocatello is old news and I never did hear the outcome of the agencies investigation into how and why the M-44 was where it was. I do not know if I missed it, it was suppressed or the results were a “personnel matter” and so confidential. “Rumor” was that someone was fired over the incident but no verification that I know of. Unfortunately the fed. Unfortunately Agriculture Wildife Services (employees used to be called government hunters and trappers) remains a bit of a rogue entity and has been so under several administrations. For some reason they seem to fly under congress and various administrations radar … not enough dollars involved I guess.

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