Wildlife Services Should Improve Its Economic Analysis of Predator Control
About 100,000 coyotes, bobcats, foxes, wolves, bears, and mountain lions are killed each year by Wildlife Services, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program. Much of this lethal control is justified, in part, by economic analyses that are often incomplete, and sometimes incorrect. This paper provides for the first time, an evaluation of the economic analyses used by Wildlife Services for predator management and sets forth recommendations to improve these analyses.
Economic analyses of predator control done by Wildlife Services are often incomplete and sometimes incorrect because they (1) are inconsistent with economic analysis guidelines used by most federal agencies, and (2) omit the economic values to society that are lost when large numbers of predators are killed, especially in the case of wolves, a species with well documented ecological value, well documented economic value, and for which great effort at great expense was taken to recover the species.
Worse, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office (the agency responsible for ensuring our federal tax dollars are spent wisely), there has never been an independent study of the costs and benefits of Wildlife Services' activities, which are largely paid for by our federal tax dollars. This evaluation answers that implicit call for an independent economic assessment of Wildlife Services' use of economic analysis.
Recommendations for Improving Economic Analyses
This report strongly recommends that Wildlife Services improve its economic analyses of predator control. At a minimum, the analysis should be consistent with that of other federal agencies. Fortunately, there are no-cost corrections to current economic analyses that can be implemented immediately, as well as medium- and long-term recommendations, including:
- Develop a manual with instructions for performing benefit-cost analyses using procedures consistent with federal agency benefit-cost guidelines.
- Provide economics training courses by Wildlife Services' National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) staff economists to state offices and field offices or support equivalent outside training.
- Develop Wildlife Services' NWRC economic tools website to aid field offices in performing economic analysis.
- Hire one or two economists at Wildlife Services or NWRC in Washington, D.C., or contracting out.
- Wildlife Services should stop using the Bodenchuck, et al. (2000) study as blanket economic justification for other state-level programs.
- Each state should conduct state specific benefit-cost analysis of a wide range of alternative predator control programs ranging from lethal to several non-lethal methods.
- When performing future economic evaluations of predator control programs, include a range of alternatives with and without predator control; include a valuation of the loss of predators that are killed when lethal control means are employed; include all costs to all parties in the analysis, and move away from sole reliance on minimum cost methods to reduce livestock loss.
- Conduct a prospective or extant economic analysis on significant predator control management actions before such actions are to be selected for implementation.
- Conduct a contingent valuation method (CVM) study of public willingness to pay for coyotes in the western United States.
- After this CVM study is completed, future Wildlife Services benefit-cost analyses should use these values to perform a more complete economic analysis that includes the reduction in economic benefits to society from coyote control.
If implemented, these recommendations will move Wildlife Services toward including the true costs of its predator control program in its economic analyses. Hopefully, these recommendations will produce more complete and balanced analyses to guide Wildlife Services' predator control decisions.
last revised 8/22/2012
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