Yesterday, the Sacramento Bee’s Tom Knudsen released an email from Todd Grimm, Western District Supervisor of Wildlife Services, breaking down the exact cost of killing wolves by shooting them from helicopters. The numbers were pretty shocking: $865/hour for the helicopter alone (plus housing, food, transportation, per diem, etc.).
Aerial gunning – shooting animals from a plane or helicopter – is often the preferred means of killing wolves and coyotes in remote areas, where it can be impractical to shoot them from the ground and difficult to set and check trap lines. It’s a far more common practice than most people realize, and very often one subsidized by federal taxpayers. When state and county governments hire USDA Wildlife Services to perform aerial gunning operations, the federal agency typically covers 40% - 50% of the costs.
Is it really worth over $800 an hour to kill a wolf or a few coyotes? Probably not. But the real scandal is that Wildlife Services doesn’t have the first clue. That’s because, as NRDC laid out in an extensive report last summer, while Wildlife Services does produce cost-benefit analyses, the agency lacks any regulations or guidance to help them do so -- and the studies the agency has produced are often inconsistent with basic federal and academic standards.
Maybe that’s why counties are increasingly questioning their Wildlife Services contracts and turning to nonlethal methods of predator control, which are better for ranchers, better for wildlife, and better for the bottom line. Even Wildlife Services is starting to invest more in nonlethal practices. Because at $865/hour, that math just doesn’t add up.