Wildlife Services is back in the air - and in the news - killing more predators. This time, Idaho, along with us taxpayers, paid the secretive federal agency to gun down wolves from a helicopter in that state's remote Lolo region so that hunters would have more elk to shoot. Wildlife services also kills predators at the request of livestock producers.
Regardless of who foots the bill, Wildlife Services believes killing is efficient and inexpensive and nonlethal deterrents are inefficient and expensive. But is that view valid? A 2014 journal article compared the costs and benefits of lethal and nonlethal deterrents.
Researchers studied eleven livestock farms in South Africa, a country where the government encourages lethal control by trapping, poisoning, hounding, and hunting. Despite the use of lethal deterrents on predators, depredation - predators killing livestock - remains a problem. All the farms studied were commercial operations with predation from jackals, caracals (a long-legged cat), and leopards. Seven of the farms butted up to areas where predators were protected. (Reminiscent of ranches in the western US near federal lands.)
The authors write that all deterrents should be judged by whether they are efficient, have few unintended consequences (such as young dying after adults are killed), target only attacking animals, are socially acceptable, and cost less than depredations. They note that lethal deterrents often fail to meet these standards, while nonlethal deterrents meet them. But few scientists have ever objectively compared lethal and nonlethal methods in actual use. These researchers took three years to do just that.
For the first year, the farms continued lethal control. At the beginning of the second year, all switched to nonlethal methods. Three farms used guard dogs; one used alpacas; the remaining four used epoxy-metal mesh collars that can block predators from delivering a fatal neck bite to sheep. (These are not the same collars that Wildlife Services uses. Their collars poison a coyote that bites the collar when attacking sheep.)
The scientists compared the total cost of using lethal methods with the cost of using nonlethals. They also tracked the number of depredations. Over the long run, the nonlethal methods cost much less to use and were much better at reducing the number of depredations.
While the results show that coexisting is far more effective than killing, the authors add this caveat: "although many farmers may be willing to implement non-lethal controls they may not do so without incentives or support of some kind."
The scientists followed up thirteen months after the study ended and found more than half the farms still using nonlethal methods. They also note that since the study ended there has been a strong uptake in the use of various livestock protective collars.
Just think what would happen if Wildlife Services pushed nonlethal deterrents with the same gusto they put into killing. More livestock and predators could be kept separate and alive. Serious money could be saved. And Americans could have a Wildlife Services we are proud to pay for.
Rick Lamplugh is a wolf advocate and author of the bestselling "In the Temple of Wolves." Available on Amazon as eBook or paperback. Or as a signed copy from the author.
Click here to read the entire article by McManus, Dickman, Gaynor, Smuts, and Macdonald.
(Top photo: Great pyrenees guard dog)