U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service



March 18, 1996

Mike Smith (303) 236-7905
Sharon Rose (303) 236-7905

Accomplishments of Special Funding for Wildlife Law Enforcement Detailed

The addition of special supplemental funding in fiscal years 1994-96 for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Division of Law Enforcement produced some exceptional conservation benefits, according to Ralph O. Morgenweck, the wildlife agency's Regional Director.

"We received $750,000 each year in added law enforcement funds," said Morgenweck, "through the special efforts of Colorado Congressman David Skaggs. We're very pleased to report that this funding enabled us to carry out four very important wildlife enforcement programs. In fact, we achieved nearly five dollars of documented conservation benefit for every dollar we spent."

"Whenever you can get a five-for-one pay off, it's a good deal," said Congressman David E. Skaggs, 2nd District, Colorado, "and that's what the taxpayers are getting from this Fish and Wildlife Service program. Just as important, it shows what can be accomplished when private industry and government cooperate and work together to remove conditions that endanger wildlife and the environment."

The four areas of enforcement focused on:

"We were very pleased with the excellent cooperation we received from the oil and gas industry," Morgenweck noted. "While 98 percent of the producers are law abiding and committed to environmental compliance, a small percentage (less than 2%) of the operators were not only seriously tarnishing their industry's image, they were responsible for hundreds -- and quite possibly thousands -- of illegal bird kills by lax management of oil and waste water brine pits." Birds are unable to distinguish until it is too late the difference between natural wetlands and oil sludge pools. Natural vegetation, including cattails, will often surround both types of ponds, further leading birds to a fatal landing site.

The gold and copper mining industry likewise worked cooperatively with the Service to identify and correct problem sites. The heap leach method of mining can yield open water pools and ponds with lethally high concentrations of cyanide. Several mining operators worked with the enforcement agents to assure that appropriate nets and other bird aversion devices were in place and functioning properly. The level of awareness and cooperation in the industry improved so significantly that cases against deficient mining operations dropped from 8 in 1994 to only 3 cases in 1995.

Through the enhanced and very visible enforcement efforts with the cooperation of the oil and gas industry as well as the mining industry, the Service's four-part law enforcement endeavor was able to achieve conservation benefits valued at $4.7 million. This figure represents documented expenditures for compliance clean-ups, devices and structures designed to prevent birds from landing at oil pit sites and actual fines for bird losses. It is estimated that an additional $20 million in undocumented efforts are anticipated throughout both industries to date.

Most of the oil and gas operations were carried out in eastern Colorado and western Kansas. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Gary Mowad was the principal investigator and worked closely with industry and trade association officials to promote widespread awareness of the clean-up efforts. "It was very encouraging," said Mowad, "to see this degree of active participation and cooperation. They were really working with us to find good long-term solutions."

Mowad, who is also a pilot, logged hundreds of hours searching out potential oil pit violations. "There is no doubt," he said, "that the added funding really made this whole operation the success it was. Thanks to the extensive use of aircraft, we were able to cover a far wider area than we would have been able to do with just surface vehicles."

Mowad's aerial enforcement efforts also disclosed an even more deadly and graphic source of wildlife loss: the intentional misuse of powerful and lethal pesticides to poison eagles, as well as other birds of prey and other predators.

Investigations showed that animal carcasses laced with highly toxic pesticides such as granular carbofurans were placed in lambing areas to poison coyotes and eagles. "What resulted," said Mowad, "is what we called the 'circle of death.' You would see a dead coyote almost adjacent to the laced carcass, then a few yards beyond that, a dead bald eagle or golden eagle, and then another few dozen yards beyond that more dead wildlife. We even found non-target bird species such as magpies, jays, owls and hawks -- all with that very typical posture of carbofurans poisoning: tail feathers drawn up and the head thrust straight back. If you had to conduct this type of investigation only from the ground, you'd probably miss a good percentage of the bird and animal kills. With the plane, though, you can quickly see that 'circle of death.'"

Granular forms of carbofurans and other similar pesticides are legal for very specific agricultural uses for row crops. There are no approved uses in livestock grazing operations. It is believed that illegal sales or exchanges of the granular pesticides have brought it into range and grazing country.

"We are very grateful to Representative Skaggs for his farsighted environmental effort to make this much needed funding available to our regional law enforcement operations," Morgenweck said. "We're also grateful to Special Agent Gary Mowad and his colleagues for their diligence and hard work these past three years. Their efforts have yielded one of the most impressive cost-benefit ratios yet achieved in our field law enforcement endeavors -- and, doubtless, a considerable reduction in loss of wildlife."

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