Proposed Budget Would Cut Funding for Wildlife Services

Wildlife Services coyote control (USDA)

The Obama Administration recently announced its proposed budget for fiscal year 2016. The President's budget would cut about $10 million from Wildlife Service's "wildlife damage management" program. This could be great news for wildlife--especially native carnivores.

Wildlife Services is a little-known agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture whose legal mandate is to resolve "wildlife damage" -- i.e., conflicts between people and their property, and wildlife. When it comes to conflicts with animals like bears, mountain lions, coyotes, and bobcats, by "resolve", Wildlife Services almost always means "kill." There is nothing in that mandate requiring the agency to use lethal means. In fact, a wide range of effective nonlethal strategies exist to respond to most conflict situations.

But, as we've pointed out before, despite the agency's spin to the contrary, 98% of the time Wildlife Services attempts to protect livestock from predators it relies on lethal "control" measures such as traps, snares and poisons to respond to conflicts -- real or imagined.

This is problematic because lethal measures are not long term solutions. Killing predators one year often just means having to kill more the next, when nearby populations inevitably recolonize the area. The result is an endless cycle of killing -- and spending -- that may even increase conflicts, rather than solve them. To make matters worse, many of the lethal measures used by Wildlife Services are indiscriminate, meaning they sometimes kill or injure "non-target" animals -- animals they were not intended for -- including threatened and endangered species.

The agency itself has done a totally inadequate job studying the costs and benefits of their killing program.

In recent years, about a quarter of Wildlife Services' wildlife damage budget has been used to respond to livestock-predator conflicts. Because this is largely a lethal program, a reduction in funding would likely mean a reduction in the killing of a wide range of species--target and non-target -- from mountains lions to moose to otters to eagles.

In an ideal world, these budget cuts would be unnecessary: Instead, Wildlife Services' could redirect its funding used to help ranchers pay for and implement nonlethal tools such as electric fences, guard dogs, and riders who monitor livestock on the range. We would see Wildlife Services providing more training and information through workshops like those recently held in Oregon and Montana. We would see a more proactive and ecologically-focused public agency using cutting-edge technology to prevent conflicts from occurring in the first place--rather than a reactive, industry-oriented business using indiscriminate traps and poisons from a bygone era.

That day may come. In the meantime, however, less money for Wildlife Services' lethal control program likely means less damage inflicted on wildlife and the ecosystems that rely on them. And that's a good thing.


Image: Wildilfe Services agent enaged in coyote control (source: USDA).