Washington, DC — Wildlife account for only a miniscule percentage of cattle deaths and a tiny portion of sheep and goats losses, according to new U.S. Department of Agricultural figures released today by two environmental groups, Sinapu and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In fact, domestic dogs kill more livestock than any other carnivore except coyotes.
The figures raise questions about the utility of taxpayers spending approximately $100 million per year on predation control. Last year, a branch of USDA called Wildlife Services killed a record 2.7 million “nuisance” wildlife, including 75,674 coyotes, 3,907 foxes, 1,918 bobcats, 445 badgers, 397 black bears, 359 mountain lions and 191 wolves, principally to benefit the livestock industry.
The USDA figures show that wildlife accounted for only two-tenths of one percent of total cattle and calves lost per year. Wolves, often the bugaboo of cattlemen, are responsible for fewer cattle losses than any other predator (two-hundredths of one percent). Total domestic cattle production is estimated at 97,309,000 per year while wildlife predation amounts to only 147,000.
“Our tax dollars are wasted financing an arsenal of airplanes, poisons and traps to kill coyotes and bobcats,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Congress is now looking for ways to cut USDA’s budget to pay for Hurricane Katrina costs but is looking at programs such as food stamps and wetlands protections. “Federal wildlife control is an unjustified subsidy for the livestock industry and should be one of the first cuts when it comes to economizing.”
For sheep and goats, 224,200 of an industry total of 7.65 million animals (approximately three percent) were killed by mammalian and avian carnivores, principally eagles, in 2004. Nearly twice as many sheep and goats (approximately five percent) were lost due to weather, age, theft, fire, poison and lambing complications.
Coyotes are responsible for the majority of all livestock predation. In response, USDA pays for an array of efforts that kill between 75,000 and 90,000 coyotes each year.
“The U.S. is engaged in an endless air and ground war against the coyote but with little to show for it other than the carnage,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu, pointing to research that many of the coyotes taken are not involved in sheep kills. “It is high time to begin exploring non-lethal means of wildlife control because what we are currently doing makes little biological or economical sense.”
Historically, USDA publishes livestock predation numbers without providing baseline production numbers so that the significance or lack thereof, of wildlife-caused losses was masked. Sinapu and PEER have produced reports that combine the previously separated USDA figures.