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Saving Money by Saving Wildlife

Andrew Wetzler

Posted March 10, 2011

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Coyote (National Park Service, John Good, 1966)

As you might know, things are tight in Washington, DC right now. Congress is struggling to come to agreement on budget bills that will keep the government running and there are few easy choices for members of Congress facing strong pressure to cut as much government spending as possible.

So here’s an idea that will save money and save wildlife: let’s cut Wildlife Services’ “Livestock Protection Program.” USDA’s Wildlife Services spends millions of dollars a year to kill tens of thousands of coyotes, bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and other wild carnivores predators. Cutting Wildlife Services’ budget for the lethal control of carnivores is a win-win proposition for wildlife and the federal budget.

Want to get specific? The program to cut is Wildlife Services’ “Livestock Protection Program,” which subsidizes private agribusinesses by answering calls to eliminate wildlife, commonly by trapping animals, poisoning them, or even shooting them down from specially-purchased aircraft. (That can’t cost much…right?)

In fact, Wildlife Services spent $23 million on programs serving livestock growers and other private agricultural operations last year. And the program has other costs, too. These include dozens of injuries and deaths from aircraft crashes, accidentally poisoned pets (and even some people), and the degradation of ecosystems that rely on healthy predator populations to function.

Despite multiple efforts to modernize its approach, the livestock program has been knocking around for almost a century, with little change in its original mission: catering to private agriculture by killing carnivores. In fact, as our friends at Defenders of Wildlife point out, last week was the eightieth anniversary of the Animal Damage Control Act, the frontier-era law that gives Wildlife Services its incredibly broad discretion to kill almost any animal for almost any reason. My colleagues and I have written much more about the history and ongoing waste of this rogue agency in a series of blog posts that you can read here.

A broad coalition of conservation groups, including NRDC, has just released its 2012 Green Budget, which outlines our recommended priorities for government spending on the environment. Members of Congress who want to slice a special interest subsidy and help wildlife in the process would do well to check out the section on Wildlife Services.

There are many disagreements in Congress over the federal budget. But most people should be able to agree that our increasingly stretched tax dollars should not be spent on the bloody Wildlife Services subsidy for private agribusiness.

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Gale DiazdeleonMar 10 2011 08:14 PM

I understand that it has been the norm for a very long time to call Bears and Wolves carnivores.....but I really wish that someone would correct that discrepancy; both species are actually Omnivores. I know this might seem trivial, but I feel it is important. Especially considering I have worked with a Bear, and currently work with Wolves (in an educational capacity). Thank you.

Celeste ColeMar 10 2011 08:23 PM

Good call Gale. Thank you Andrew, it's an excellent idea and I'll support it by writing recommendations to the appropriate political officials. May I quote you? Is there a petition ready to sign?

Thank you!

Andrew WetzlerMar 10 2011 09:10 PM

Gale, thanks for the comment. You are right of course and I will correct the post to the more generic predator, which I think is more accurate. Thanks for reading!

Celeste, thanks and I'm glad you'll be writing your representatives. We don't have a petition prepared on this idea as there are so many things we are engaged on right now but I'll post any that develop.

CassieMar 11 2011 11:56 AM

Keep us posted! I'm ready to sign my name by that X!!!

Jack PouchetMar 11 2011 12:06 PM

Simple solution - change the laws on hunting/poaching so farmers and ranchers can protect their property without fear of being hauled into court for running afoul of current game regulations. We used to let people take care of themselves and you will find that spirit still runs very strong especially in the West.

We really don't need any government agencies involved at all. The farmers and ranchers have been more than capable of protecting themselves all along.

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