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
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.
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Fiscal Year 2000 — the most recent figures available to the public — to demonstrate some of the many problems with this outdated government program that spends more than $10 million in federal funds to kill nearly 100,000 predators nationwide each year, including coyotes, foxes, bobcats,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.
Predator Conservation Alliance's Solution
Since 1991, Predator Conservation Alliance has been working to reform USDA Wildlife Services (formerly, "Animal Damage Control") such that:
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:
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:
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.
Predator Conservation Alliance