Living near the perimeter fence line of the Oregon State University Sheep Center, people from the Oak Creek Neighborhood Coalition have long opposed the center’s use of snare traps as a method of predator control. These snares are placed to prevent animals, mainly coyotes, from slipping onto the property and killing the sheep flock residing in the nearby barns. However, the coalition claims these traps have been directly responsible for the inhumane deaths of non-targeted wildlife and domestic pets since early 2012, leaving the wounded animals to suffer and eventually die from thirst and starvation.
Oak Creek representatives and the non-profit organization Predator Defense out of Eugene launched a campaign, sending numerous letters and emails to OSU president Ed Ray and others asking the university to remove the snares from the property, which they ultimately did, for awhile. An OSU representative claimed at the time that the decision to use snares as line of defense was made by the USDA Wildlife Services, whom they’ve had a contract with for many years.
In Spring 2013, a property owner living adjacent to the Sheep Center reportedly found warning signs posted near the fence line that indicated lethal use of trapping or poison were in use, and noticed the snares had been reinstalled around the perimeter. Concerned neighbors began sending letters and emails to OSU again, requesting they terminate the usage of snares, as well as the contract with the USDA. They also requested OSU find ways to work collaboratively with them and other volunteers on the issue, since they feel, for example, the traps are checked regularly, but should be checked daily.
Cassandra Robertson, who lives in the Oak Creek area near the Sheep Center fence line, says the group’s goal moving forward is pretty simple.
“We are asking them [OSU] to utilize alternatives to lethal indiscriminate predator control,” Robertson said. “That’s mainly what we have been in communication with OSU for, trying to understand why they are so set on using inhumane, lethal predator control for the safety of their flocks.”
The efforts to communicate with OSU didn’t work right away. A group representative soon sent a letter addressed to the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences head Dr. John Killefer and the Dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences Dr. Dan Arp, and a few days later received a response from Sabah Randhawa, provost and executive vice president of OSU.
In Randhawa’s response it said that the OSU Sheep Center has followed all regulations, and the Department of Agriculture Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA provides the center’s predator control services. This protection first starts with using non-lethal methods, followed by other methods as warranted by the predator pressure experienced at the site. The USDA-APHIS reportedly placed 16 snares within the interior fences, not the perimeter fences, and warning signs, after results showed that significant animal deaths occurred when the snares were deactivated. In 2011, while snares were in place, 25 animals were killed by coyote predators as opposed to in 2012 when over 100 animals died without the availability of traps, even with enhanced non-lethal procedures (placing the sheep in barns at night, portable net fencing, etc.) used. To further protect the lambs and ewes from the increase in predation, the snares were re-implemented and set not to catch anything smaller than a coyote. Three coyotes and no other animals have reportedly been caught since snares were set around the site again.
Robertson says the Willamette Valley and Coastal Range farmers she has spoken with have used alternative, non-lethal methods of predator control, such as additional fencing, electrical fencing, and by employing guard dogs or llamas to protect sheep with 100% success rates. She doesn’t understand why an institution like OSU with so many resources can’t achieve the same success as small farmers without using traps.
“We have been in communication with our neighbors at Oak Creek for almost the last two years in regards to this issue,” John Killefer said. “We use probably every non-lethal method that is available. We use perimeter and interior fencing, various types of electrical fencing, portable net fencing, motion sensor lighting systems, guard llamas and on-site personnel.”
Killefer also said the snares are used in addition to non-lethal methods and are run by the USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services Program, a federally approved program that operates predator control throughout the U.S. He said OSU (as mentioned above) tried to not utilize any of the snares for a period of time and lost about a third of their animals.
The issue of USDA trapping methods is certainly not a new one, and is at the crux of the Oak Creek neighbors’ complaints. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is co-sponsoring (along with Oregon Wild and The Corvallis Sustainability Coalition) a double feature screening of documentary films about the issue. Exposed: The USDA’s Secret War on Wildlife and Wild Things will be shown on Wednesday, April 23 at the Odd Fellows Lodge with a panel discussion afterward, featuring Brooks Fahy from Predator Defense, and John Neumeister, proprietor of Cattail Creek Lamb in Junction City.
According to Robertson, there’s another method (along with using llamas) OSU officials have mentioned in their email communication with the Oak Creek representatives, which neighbors would be in favor of.
“Another thing they said they’d start using was a human shepherd and that is the cream of the crop, the best way for predator control,” Robertson said. “That makes me question why they’re going to have traps if there’s a human out there?”
“This [snare] is just one of the tools available to us to ensure the safety and welfare of not only our animals, but other wildlife. We try to use it at as a low a level as possible, but we have to use it,” Killefer said.
In the end, OSU and its Sheep Center neighbors all seem interested in the same thing: keeping the animals that live there safe. However, there’s a significant difference of opinion on the best way to achieve that goal.