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Wildlife "Services"?
A presentation and analysis of the USDA Wildlife Services Program’s Expenditures and Kill Figures for Fiscal Year 2000
          by Predator Conservation Alliance, February 2002
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Each year Wildlife Services spends more than 10 million tax dollars to kill nearly 100,000 predators — an antiquated program that has proven to be inefficient, ineffective, environmentally destructive, and inhumane.

Executive Summary

The problem with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s "Wildlife Services" program is that taxpayer money is spent to kill America's wildlife to benefit a minority of western ranchers. These ranchers are under no obligation to improve their practices to reduce conflicts with wildlife.

This report looks at Wildlife Services’ own data from Fiscal Year 2000 — the most recent figures available to the public — to demonstrate some of the many problems with this outdated government program that spends more than $10 million in federal funds to kill nearly 100,000 predators nationwide each year, including coyotes, foxes, bobcats, badgers, bears, and mountain lions.

We focus on the 17 western states because they account for about half of Wildlife Services' expenditures nationwide (47%), and because in the West most of these expenditures are devoted to agriculture (71%), almost all of which is spent on killing wildlife to protect livestock. In sum, when Congress gives taxpayers dollars to Wildlife Services, the majority goes to the western states, and the majority of that is spent on killing native predators—an antiquated program that has proven to be inefficient, ineffective, and environmentally destructive.

Our report illustrates the following problems.

  • $31 million in taxpayer money was spent by Wildlife Services in 2000, nearly half of which ($13.1 million) went toward killing wildlife to protect agriculture, and the vast majority of that ($10.7 million) was spent in the western states.
  • Wildlife Services claims it provides a diversity of services that benefit all Americans, but at least in the West, a super majority (71%) of its budget is spent killing wildlife to protect the agriculture industry;
  • Because it is subsidized by taxpayers, the cost of killing predators far outweighs the damage due to predators (by about three to one, according to past WS data no longer available to the public). In 2000, we know that far more predators were killed than the reported losses of livestock and pets due to predators;
  • How much wildlife does Wildlife Services "service"? In 2000, WS killed 87,000 coyotes, 6000 foxes, 2500 bobcats, and hundreds of badgers, mountain lions, and black bears. Despite its claims that it is switching to non-lethal methods of predator control, WS killed as many predators as ever in 2000.
  • WS’ methods used to kill wildlife are not selective, meaning they kill many animals that pose no threat to agriculture. Most are killed from airplanes before livestock even enter an area. The second most common killing technique is poisoning with sodium cyanide traps ("M-44s"), which kill any animal that happens across them (including pets).
  • Finally, more and more taxpayer dollars are wasted on this program every year. Despite a supposedly cost-cutting Congress, federal funding of Wildlife Services' agriculture work increases every year, and jumped by more than one third in 2002! [Note: figures on WS’ total budget are more current than the other data in this report]

Predator Conservation Alliance's Solution

Since 1991, Predator Conservation Alliance has been working to reform USDA Wildlife Services (formerly, "Animal Damage Control") such that:

  • No tax dollars are used to kill wildlife to protect private livestock, and
  • Wildlife Services’ budget helps ranchers to improve their practices to prevent wildlife conflicts.

PCA proposes that any future lethal control methods employed by Wildlife Services be: (1) funded by the agriculture industry, (2) selective against offending animals only, (3) environmentally benign, including no toxics, no harm to wildlife populations, and no risk to people or to pets.

In 2000, U.S. taxpayers spent more than $31 million to support the U.S. Department of Agriculture "Wildlife Services" program, more than $13 million of which was spent on "agriculture" — killing wildlife in order to protect the agriculture industry, especially in the western U.S. These figures show how many tax dollars Wildlife Services spends in each state, and that most of it is spent on "agriculture."

Texas leads the country in federal appropriations spent on WS' agriculture program. Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Colorado each spend more than 90% of their federal appropriations on lethal control of native wildlife.

Regarding the columns of numbers in Table 1 below:

  • The first column (Budget Total) reports on the total amount spent by each western state office of Wildlife Services ($40 million total);
  • The second column (Amt. of Fed. Apps.) reports on the fraction of each state's budget that is funded by direct federal appropriations (39% on average, and $14.7 million total); and
  • The third column (Amt. of Fed. Apps. spent on Ag) reports the percentage of each state's federal appropriations that is spent on Wildlife Services' agriculture program (73% on average, and $10.7 million in the western U.S.).

State Office Budget Total ($) Amount of Federal Appropriations ($)/(%) Federal Apps. Spent on Agriculture ($)/(%)
Arizona 858,048 423,222 (49%) 176,154 (42%)
California 4,847,948 1,458,860 (30%) 992,025 (68%)
Colorado 1,216,439 746,133 (61%) 671,520 (90%)
Idaho 1,326,944 713,796 (54%) 472,682 (66%)
Kansas 135,311 49,518 (37%) 4,871 (10%)
Montana 2,844,099 1,139,067 (40%) 1,094,076 (96%)
Nebraska 649,222 333,797 (51%) 200,280 (60%)
Nevada 1,597,547 772,618 (48%) 558,217 (72%)
New Mexico 2,253,758 1,226,520 (54%) 1,141,400 (93%)
North Dakota 1,249,008 730,996 (59%) 613,328 (84%)
Oklahoma 2,425,995 746,621 (31%) 500,236 (67%)
Oregon 2,115,813 918,791 (43%) 542,087 (59%)
South Dakota 1,460,296 325,222 (22%) 269,130 (83%)
Texas 9,473,702 2,645,488 (28%) 1,863,755 (70%)
Utah 2,064,126 948,371 (46%) 502,709 (53%)
Washington 1,872,561 531,887 (28%) 158,425 (30%)
Wyoming 1,592,159 946,182 (59%) 894,893 (95%)
State Office Total 37,983,012 14,657,089 (39%) 10,655,788 (73%)
State Office Total US N/A N/A 13,060,322
WS Operations Total 67,830,000 31,395,000 (46%) N/A

Similar to the federal appropriations figures on the previous page, agriculture also consumes the lion’s share of Wildlife Services’ total budget in the western U.S. The vast majority (>90%)* of these dollars are spent killing America's predatory wildlife to protect livestock.

* Note: WS no longer reveals to the public the exact amount it spends on livestock protection, but the only other elements of its agriculture work — protecting crops and aquaculture — have accounted for less than 8% of its budget in previous years.

The Upshot — Wildlife Services claims that they do a lot more than just kill wildlife for the agriculture industry, but the numbers reveal that this remains its primary occupation.

This government subsidy is getting worse every year. A supposedly cost-cutting Congress increases Wildlife Services’ budget every year, and by more than one-third in FY2002! (Note: these appropriation figures are more current than the figures in the remainder of this report).

Because it is subsidized by taxpayers, Wildlife Services spends far more effort and money killing predators than the reported financial losses caused by predators. Sheep lossses due to predators can be significant, but the effect of predators on other livestock is negligible compared to other problems. For example, a 1996 report found that cattle losses due to predators average approximately 2%, far behind weather, calving problems, illness, and other problems. Of nine categories for dead or missing cattle, only poison and theft took a lower toll than predators (National Agriculture Statistics Service, 5/26/96). As for preventing sheep losses, lethal control of predators is proven to be only a short-term solution at best.

There would be much more of a balance if the cost of predator control was switched from taxpayers to the livestock industry, because it is simply not cost effective to put so much effort into killing predators. Unfortunately, the imbalance is only increasing — federal funding of WS’ agriculture work increases every year.

How many predators does Wildlife Services kill, and where? Texas leads the nation, the source of one fifth (22%) of all predators killed in 2000. Another 10% of Wildlife Service's killing occurred in Montana. Wildlife Services has killed no predators in South Dakota and very few in Kansas, because those states have found alternative methods to address predator conflicts.

The methods used by Wildife Services to kill predators are not pretty. In addition, they are not selective, and they are not cheap. One third are shot from airplanes (aerial gunning). This typically occurs in the spring before livestock have even entered an area for grazing. WS flies the area and shoots all of the predators in the vicinity, whether or not they are a proven threat to livestock. This method is also dangerous and costly. There have been 18 crashes between 1989 and 1999, resulting in 7 deaths and 21 injuries (http://www.goagro.org/crash.htm). The costs are estimated at $200 - $800 per coyote (J. Wildl. Manage 63:606).

Trapping is the second most common method used to kill predators, including wire neck snares, steel-jawed leghold traps, and others. Poisoning is third, specifically sodium-cyanide coyote traps ("M-44s") that can kill any wildlife or pet that happens across them, and livestock collars filled with Compound 1080, a highly toxic poison once outlawed by the EPA that has no known antidote. Other methods for killing predators include shooting them from the ground and killing coyote pups found in their dens.

Despite Wildlife Services' claims that it only kills depredating animals, few of these methods discriminate between depredating individuals and all other predators on the landscape.

Definition of the Terms

Aerial: Aerial gunning, or shooting from an aircraft, is frequently used for what Wildlife Services calls "preventative" coyote control — WS gunners kill large numbers of coyotes in a certain area before livestock even arrive.

M-44: The M-44 is a spring-loaded, baited device that sprays sodium cyanide into the nose and mouth of whatever animal pulls on the bait. The M-44 is mostly used for coyotes and foxes, but has killed endangered wolves and domestic dogs, among other "non-target" species.

Leg/Foot & Neck: These include snares made of wire and cable.

Leghold: The steel jaw trap is the leghold trap of choice for WS predator control.

Cage: ADC uses a variety of cage traps; the most commonly used cage trap is made of wood and heavy wire.

Spot/Call/Shot: All types of shooting: "Spot" refers to using a spotlight to shoot at night.

Denning: This is the process of finding and killing coyote pups by digging them out of their dens.

Wildlife Services claims that it is reforming its practices and relies less on lethal methods to protect livestock. Its own figures indicate that WS continues to kill as many predators as ever.

References Used in Preparing this Report

PCA created the figures in this report using data from Wildlife Services’ annual tables published every year, and now available on the internet (www.aphis.usda.gov/ws). We relied on data from the following tables in particular:

  • "Federal and Cooperative Expenditures, Wildlife Services--Fiscal Year 2000 (10/03/01)"
  • "Resource Losses Reported to the WS Program, FY 2000 (Table 3 - 8/15/01)"
  • "Number of Animals Taken and Methods Used by the WS Program, FY 2000 (Table 10 – Taken – 8/20/01)"

PCA also thanks A Coalition to End Aerial Gunning of Wildlife (AGRO; www.goagro.org) and Animal Protection Institute (www.api4animals.org) for additional information used in this report.

Other Wildlife Services/Animal Damage Control References

Please contact Predator Conservation Alliance for copies of the following publications regarding the Wildlife Services program, or for any additional information related to this report.

  • The USDA Wildlife Services Program and America's Wildlife: Ten Myths That Perpetuate Environmental Destruction and Government Waste, Predator Project report, June 1998.
  • Green Scissors 2000 — Cutting Wasteful and Environmentally Harmful Spending
  • Green Scissors Tally for 1999 — The Cost of Congressional Votes to Taxpayers and the Environment
  • GAO Report B-261796, Animal Damage Control Program — Efforts to protect livestock from predators, October 1995
  • Audit of the USDA Animal Damage Control Program, by Randall O’Toole, April 1994
  • Animal Damage Control: How your tax dollars subsidize agribusiness by killing and harassing America’s wildlife, by Ben Deeble and Felice Stadler, December 1993.
  • Predator Conservation Alliance’s ADC annual reports, 1991-1999
  • Reprints of ADC articles from The Home Range, Predator Project’s newsletter
  • OpEds, articles from national and regional newspapers.

Predator Conservation Alliance
PO Box 6733
Bozeman, Montana 59771
phone 406-587-3389
fax 406-587-3178
pca@predatorconservation.org






Web page © 2004 Monty Sloan / WolfPhotography.com Text by CeAnn Lambert, ICRC
Last revised: Friday, March 19, 2004