Predator control costs taxpayers nearly $30 million each year, and the director of the Humane Society of the United States says he wants people to see what their taxes pay for.
Dick Randall, a former Animal Damage Control trapper who now serves as the Humane Society's director, spoke Saturday at the Utah Wilderness Association's conference on predators. The conference, titled "Emerging Values of Wildlife II: A Place for Predators," discussed issues from the reintroduction of wolves into Utah to presentations on the behavior of bears.Coyotes are predators, and many believe they deal a drastic blow to the livestock industry. While they do occasionally kill livestock, coyotes generally hunt mice, kangaroo rats, other rodents and grasshoppers, Randall said.
In most situations, coyotes are not predators of sheep and other livestock. However, the Aerial Hunting Act says that if predators are damaging or about to damage livestock, the ADC should kill the predators.
One coyote Randall killed cost $1,400 between airtime in the helicopter and wages of five trappers. Randall, who performed an autopsy on each animal he killed, said the coyote's stomach was filled with rodents.
Ranchers call the ADC when coyotes or other predators are just in the area, he said. The trappers go out and kill the animals, leaving a territory open to other coyotes. As this continues, coyotes become more and more unsettled and end up attacking livestock.
Randall said predator control creates a void in the ecosystem, causing imbalance. New animals migrate to the area to fill the void. For example, raccoons and red foxes are moving into Wyoming from Nebraska because of the reduction in coyote populations, he said.
Predator control also affects birth rates of coyotes, said Randall. In Yellowstone National Park, where coyotes are not killed through predator control programs, the average litter size is three pups. In areas where coyotes are hunted, litters average seven pups, and the adults breed 60 percent to 70 percent of year.
When asked why he changed to advocating the need for predators, Randall said he realized the harm that predator control has on the balance of the ecosystem. He also cited the unnecessary damage caused to animals that might get caught in traps or poisoned by bait intended for a predator.
Rather than merely killing predators, better and less expensive ways to control them are available, he said. Guard dogs can be used to scare off any predators and protect the livestock from damage.
Another ADC-considered method of keeping coyotes away from sheep is the use of lithium chloride and parts of a sheep carcass, including the wool and flesh, as a bait, he said.
Lithium chloride, injected into the carcass, will cause the coyote to become extremely ill and vomit violently when it eats the meat. But the injected chemicals will not kill the animal.
The idea behind this baiting procedure, said Randall, is to make the coyote associate the flavor of sheep flesh with being sick, causing them to leave sheep alone.
While Randall says predator control "is a waste of the public's money," Wayne Urry of the Utah Farm Bureau says it is necessary.
Ranchers are losing animals to predators, translating into money losses for the ranchers and increased prices for consumers, he said. Many predators attack livestock, with cougars, bears, coyotes and wolves among the perpetrators.
Urry said the Farm Bureau will continue to ask for congressional support and more money for predator-control programs.