Predator control looks a lot different on the ground


The extremists who are on a mission to eliminate the Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services would do well to spend time with ranchers who live and work on our Western landscape. There, they might gain an on-the-ground perspective other than their narrowly defined agenda. As the old Greek shepherds -- echoing the ancient Greek philosophers -- say, “Everything in moderation.” Yet the campaign to end Wildlife Services is anything but moderate; it’s fraught with melodrama and spin-doctoring.

Since biblical times, domestic livestock and crops have needed protection from predators and scavengers. Domestic livestock and agriculture have enabled mankind to explore and establish settlements, and have played a major role in providing the comforts we expect today. These days, though, most Americans are several generations removed from production agriculture, and most don’t realize what’s required to put a meal on their table. Wildlife Services fulfills a critical role in protecting American agriculture, yet it is portrayed by extremists as “slaughtering and persecuting” wildlife.

It’s true that Wildlife Services kills over a million animals a year, but the vast majority are birds that cause crop and feedlot damage. Is this an unpleasant thought? Of course, but is it necessary? Yes. Does Wildlife Services kill native carnivores? Yes, but is it necessary? Yes. Does it harm the viability of the overall wildlife population? Biologists will tell you it absolutely does not.

Do you want your home occupied by mice, or it is all right to kill them? Prairie dogs might be considered cute, unless they destroy your property and pose the risk of bubonic plague to your family. Wolves are wild and beautiful, but less so if they kill your horse, a beloved family pet or take a significant bite out of your paycheck by killing your livestock.

As with all situations in life, there are many sides to an issue. Defining the predator-control issue in a one-sided campaign is an insult to everyone who doesn’t know the facts. It implies that the average American is not smart enough to make the “right” decision when presented with a comprehensive overview of the issue. On the other hand, I believe that when presented with all the facts, most Americans understand that managing wildlife is necessary if we are to maintain viable farms and ranches.

Leading the charge to eliminate Wildlife Services are groups such as WildEarth Guardians. They charge that the federal agency’s job is “to eradicate and bring down wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, bears, prairie dogs, and other animals. Help stop the slaughter today.” This statement is false. It has been decades since there was a federal policy aimed at eradicating wolves, and nowhere in the current Wildlife Services program is there language directing the agency to eradicate any of the species listed above.

It is true that Wildlife Services does occasionally kill entire packs of wolves that have repeatedly caused damage to livestock; that was part of the federal tradeoff that got wolves restored to the West. Wildlife Services also spends money to target the removal of depredating coyotes, bears, and lions. However, the agency is not engaged in the wholesale slaughter of predators or other wildlife; its mission is to protect agriculture. Wildlife Services is a major component of predator control for the livestock industry, and livestock losses would be significantly higher without an agency constantly removing depredating animals.

The campaign to eliminate Wildlife Services includes a recent petition to the EPA to ban M44s, devices used to kill coyotes. The petition -- filed by Sinapu and Forest Guardians, now known as WildEarth Guardians -- is riddled with inconsistencies and omissions. For instance, the petition states that from 1996-2006, Wildlife Services violated federal regulations 17 times when setting M44s. Yet it fails to mention that during the same time frame, 244,000 M44s were set, and 33,000 of the M44s were fired. Statistically speaking, this means that only .0000696 violations occurred as a percentage of overall M44s set in the field; and only .000515 violations occurred as a percentage of M44s actually fired in the field.

Americans enjoy the luxury of spending only approximately 10 percent of their income on food, compared to the up to 45 percent that people in other countries must pay. Stripping away management tools that assist agriculture undermines the U.S. economy and heads us down the road to rapid dependency on foreign countries for our food. As the rhetoric to eliminate Wildlife Services escalates, remember the Greek shepherds’ philosophy of “Everything in moderation.”

Bonnie Kline is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( She is executive director of the Colorado Wool Growers Association in Denver, Colorado.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at

May 06, 2008 11:04 AM

Well, here's another example of High Country News' long-running, one-sided welcome to narrow-minded opinions from the livestock industry, but nothing regarding the truth--that agriculture is fundamentally incompatible with wildlife conservation.  Is there any doubt that Betsy Marston, Madame Censorship herself, will refuse to allow a contrary opinion to that of Ms Cline in Writers on the Range?

May 06, 2008 11:07 AM

Predators do need controlled, but why should the taxpayer subsidize "free" pest control for ranchers and farmers? The government should not be in the business of providing this service as their are numerous private companies that can fill this need and be paid for their services.

The beef packing house does not get free pest control nor should the rancher. Just like any other business, they must pay for their own pest control needs and not put it on the backs of taxpayers.

May 07, 2008 01:37 PM

Having now read both sides of the issue (an article from Bonnie Kline and Lisa Upson) I am reminded of a great book called Don Coyote by Dayton O Hyde. He is an eastern Oregon rancher who discovered that eliminating coyotes caused the mice in the kitchen described in this article. After all his neighbors killed the coyotes via the wildlife services he was the only one whose ranch was still thriving. He went so far as to import some more coyotes. It is a very interesting read. The problem with wildlife services is that the animal is removed that is currently causing a problem with no thought on how it fits into the overall puzzle. Every overpopulation of a certain species is a lack of balance somewhere. Once you start, say by removing cougars, then you have a prairie dog overpopulation. . and what do prairie dogs eat?  New technologies, thoughts and methods seem to be slow to catch on with some of farmers and ranchers who stick closely to their old tried and true ways passed down to them with the family.  The wildlife services may be needed but unless they make some radical changes and move into a constructive mode the public will find out about them and eliminate them. If they stopped killing "pests" and tried to find ways of naturally controlling numbers we would all be behind them.  

May 07, 2008 01:53 PM

According to Bonnie Klines Article anyone that cares about protecting Wildlife is labeled an extremist, this is so offensive and stupid it is not even worthy of comment! How can you let this person write such trash in your publication?   


May 07, 2008 06:31 PM

Killing predators is a huge subsidy to the livestock industry, period.  Worse, it's one that has little of the desired effect!  If we were really interested in saving American taxpayer dollars we would pay Wildlife Services to "control" some of our white-tailed deer here in the Midwest.  Deer do FAR MORE DAMAGE IN A SINGLE YEAR than wolves and coyotes do in a decade.  A 1995 publication estimated the cost of deer-vehicle collisions alone at 1.5 Billion (with a "B"), with thousands of people injured and a few dozen killed every year.  That doesn't even include loss agricultural losses, zoonotic disease transmission, etc.  The war on predators is a sham!

May 07, 2008 06:34 PM

it continues to baffle me that an industry so transparently and admittedly at odds with the natural world is allowed this space to whine about being unable to conduct its business without government extermination programs that rid and manipulate our children's public lands of wildlife using the next generation's dime to do it (our children's money mind you - we're running a deficit).  Bonnie's apologetic stats on M44's would be laughable if they weren't so tragic.  These M44s are chemical agents that are a threat to America's wildlife, Americans' pets, are non-selective and Bonnie fails her own test of omission when she leaves out the horrific description of how these chemicals produce the livestock industry's desired result.  Wikipedia :

"It lures predators with an attractive smell, often from a small piece of bait, then uses a spring to propel a dosage of sodium cyanide into the predators mouth.  The sodium cyanide combines with water in the mouth to produce poisonous cyanide gas."

It gases the animals from the inside out.  It's disgusting, immoral, dangerous and we're paying for it.  How's that for omission Bonnie ?

The livestock industry has plenty of media outlets with which to peddle its cowboy myths, I am sorry to continue to see HCN's continued complacency - especially in a media environment in dire need of critical objectivity with regard to the public lands livestock industry's destructively subsidized exploitation of America's environmental heritage.  I encourage the publication to give thought to the difference between the journalistic standard of 'balance' and of 'objectivity' ...  we're not getting either. 

May 08, 2008 11:31 AM


Labeling everyone who wants to get rid of Wildlife Services an "extremist" is not very useful. As the informative article from Lisa Upson illustrated, Wildlife Services is the epitome of obsolete government organizations.

 There are plenty of ranchers and farmers who have found it much more holistic, gratifying and morally appropriate to conserve and protect the plants and animals found on their ranches and farms.

 For example, Thirteen Mile Lamb and Wool Company in Montana is run by wonderful people who respect ecosystems and native carnivores, and offer excellent products for people like me who recognize and appreciate the sustainable way they manage their business.

 Or, Larry and Bette Haverfield in Kansas have been ranching their land for decades and co-exist with prairie dogs- and recently participated in the release of critically endangered black footed ferrets on their 10,000 acre ranch. 

The biggest outrage regarding Wildlife Services is that much of their killing takes place on public lands- lands that are owned by everyone in this country.  

 I applaud the effort to dismantle Wildlife Services and to make the larger public aware of this incredible waste of taxpayer dollars. 

 The Colorado Wool Growers Association should stop living in the 1800's. Making wildlife the boogeyman for the problems in your industry is disingenuous. With less than 1% of the world's sheep population, it is hardly a significant industry in this country. 



May 08, 2008 11:32 AM

I grew up on a ranch in the West and have these comments to Bonnie Kline. 

1) There are ranchers who take care of their livestock and do not shoot or "control" varmints like coyotes, badgers or foxes. They realize that predators can be scared off using non-lethal methods, although this takes some extra effort. Also, that predators hunt rodents and are part of the natural landscape. Some ranchers are proud of the fact that they raise grass fed, "organic", "predator friendly" beef or lamb.

2) Defending M44's - Kline defends killing wildlife with a cyanide gas pellet, even though domestic dogs may die from M44's. Keep defending M44's and the support that the sheep industry still has, is going to vanish completely. Wildlife Services also uses snares and sometimes they catch a pet dog and it dies a terrible death as the owner watches. Wolves also have been killed from snares. 

3) I grew up around sheep and unlike many of my friends, I like sheep. Now, I spend a lot of time around large sheep bands when they are on public land in Idaho and observe some very sloppy husbandry practices and neglect by owners and their herders. I don't blame the herders. They do as instructed or else. I see sick and crippled ewes, lambs and rams left behind as the band moves on, or often the animal's throat is cut so that the herd and guard dogs can have some fresh meat and fill their belly with something besides the cheapest dog food one can purchase. When coyotes, bear or wolves, take advantage and kill sick or crippled sheep, then BOOM, Wildlife Services is called into action and the predators are gunned down by aircraft, paid for by our taxpayers dollars. 

4) Suggestion - anyone reading this, if you object to Wildlife Services killing coyotes, foxes, wolves, bears, mt lions ... then stop eating beef and sheep. If you can't live without your big mac or lamb chops, then make certain it's "predator friendly". If you still can't shake the big mac habit, then visit a feedlot where feeder steers are standing knee deep in manure, living in misery, awaiting slaughter. 
May 08, 2008 11:32 AM

Wow, "methinks the lady doth protest too much."



May 08, 2008 11:32 AM

The old "put a meal on your table" line of unadulterated horse apples. I read no further.

May 12, 2008 12:10 PM

Hey, Bonnie... your rancher friends don't even get charged for this welfare service. That's along with below-market grazing fees on federal lands, below-market water costs if you're getting it from a federally-impounded lake, and below-market electricity if it's federally-generated hydropower off the dam backing up that lake.


Western "conservatives' are about the greediest welfare hogs in the country.


That starts with the late Barry Goldwater.


He was find with getting rid of the TVA. But, Glen Canyon Dam and Boulder Dam? Let alone a boondoggle like the Colorado River Project? Different story. 

May 12, 2008 12:21 PM

I personally know someone who inadvertently picked up an M-44 and it went off in his hand. By the grace of the Almighty, the wind was blowing away from him or he would be dead. As it was, it took months for his hand to heal. Are livestock worth this? When a cyanide gun kills your dog, you don't care what the regulations governing them are. All you know is a horrible injustice has been visited upon you. Actually, words fail me to describe how despicable that is. When Wildlife Services kills an unintended animal with its indiscriminate traps and poisons like a fox, badger, porcupine, or raven, we are all the poorer for it. Moreover, I would venture that the majority of intended coyotes killed never thought about killing livestock anyway. Its just a sorry sorry waste.

May 12, 2008 12:25 PM

Anonymous #2 (and #4 and #5): If you think HCN is one-sided towards industry, you need to seriously pull you head out.  You are off the deep end if you think HCN is some industry rag.  Shame on all of you who condemn HCN for printing someone's opinion.  What's your problem? Afraid of someone else's views?  YOU are the problem, not HCN.  Go read Western Watershed's website and submerse yourself in all the lies and propaganda you want without bothering people who like to actually read and discuss opposing views.

Anonymous #3:  You are SPOT ON.  Killing Coyotes results in higher reproduction rates. If you want to reduce their numbers LEAVE THEM ALONE.

The fact that this is happening is horrible. The fact that tax payers are funding this is a complete travesty.

May 19, 2008 11:21 AM

Odd, isn't it!  That a Country that is so outspoken against Australia using the meat from culled Kangaroos, that trade embargoes have been suggested, is so happy to willy-nilly kill its own wild-life.  And then not even use these animal's carcases.

Wildlife services
Eleusis Fedeva
Eleusis Fedeva
Nov 07, 2008 02:21 AM
Wow! What happened to High Country News? I used to respect this paper as an environment-friendly source of news!

I live in ranching country Nevada. I looked at the 2007 Wildlife Services report and it was very informative. Yes, Wildlife Service removed problem predators here and there for private ranchers. I have no problem with that. But those animals represented about 2% of the animals removed. For the other 98%, NDOW (the state wildlife agency) contracted Wildlife Services to aerial hunt coyotes from entire mountain ranges to "protect mule deer fawn in the spring and increase mule deer populations". They were shooting 100's of coyotes at a know, here in Caliente, NV there are so many fearless mule deer, I feel like I live in a petting zoo...There was another project to protect bighorn sheep lambs, where they killed as many mountain lions as they could find in bighorn sheep territory. Just google the annual Wildlife Services report for your's on the internet, and it's shocking and informative - about 98% of the animals removed are not "problem"'s also ineffective and not science-based...I am a federal biologist with an MS in Fisheries and Wildlife Management - I find it hard to believe these Wildlife Service agents are anything more than overpaid hunters.