February 25, 2009
Chad Love: Predator Control
By Chad Love
The USDA's Wildlife Services division illicits a strong response from virtually everyone. The controversial trapping and predator control program has been called everything from a rancher's best friend to a ruthless war on wildlife.
From the story in the New York Times:
Conservationists argue in a new report that U.S. taxpayers should stop subsidizing a $100 million program that kills more than 1 million wild animals annually, a program ranchers and farmers have defended for nearly a century as critical to protecting their livestock from predators.
Citing concerns about the economy and the potential for a fresh look at the decades-old controversy in the new Obama administration, 115 environmental groups signed onto a recent letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to abolish the U.S. Agriculture Department's Wildlife Services.
Here's a list of the groups that signed the letter. Note the complete absence of any mainstream sportsmen-based conservation organizations. When groups supporting a proposal read like a vegan superheroes collective (The League of Humane Voters?), be skeptical.
Is there room for legitimate debate on the wildlife services program? Of course, but not for the reasons given. It's fair to question the program's effectiveness at reducing livestock predation, whether the feds should be subsidizing the business costs of the livestock industry, the widespread use of poison, and the program's toll on non-targeted species. But from a purely biological perspective the ADC doesn't even begin to reduce predator (mainly coyote) populations and it's farcical to couch the debate in terms of a "war on wildlife," as these groups are doing. If it's a war, then judging by the number of coyotes, coons, skunks, possums and beavers out there it's one we're losing badly.
Here's the real debate: On what level - micro or macro - does the program work best? Should that government trapper stick to removing individual problem animals or should he be doing general predator control on large ranches and public rangeland? What's the best bang (so to speak) for our buck?