Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Auditing America’s Predator Control Program

Gray Wolf © Michael S Quinton / National Geographic Stock
Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. That sounds a lot like Wildlife Services’ lethal predator control program, especially when it comes to wolves.

When wolves are in the vicinity when livestock are lost, ranchers can call Wildlife Services to come and shoot or trap and remove any wolves around their property, whether they were at fault or not. Removing a pack may solve some problems in the short term, but what happens the next spring, when another pack has moved into the territory and the livestock are still just as vulnerable to attack? Yet year after year, Wildlife Services will perform this duty and not require livestock owners to make any changes to deter future attacks.

Fladry fence, © Defenders of Wildlife
Nonlethal tools like fladry have proven extremely effective at deterring wolves from livestock without killing them.

Inefficient management, poor results and high costs are the reasons we (and many of you) asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to conduct an audit of Wildlife Services’ predator control program. An audit was originally proposed in the OIG’s FY2013 Annual Plan, but is now slated to be carried over to FY2014. However, due to budget constraints, the OIG may have to pick and choose which audits to perform in FY2014 and the Wildlife Services audit may fall by the wayside.

A few weeks ago, Representatives DeFazio (D-OR) and Campbell (R-CA)renewed their demand for an audit, this time joined by Representative Peters (D-MI) and supported by more than 157,000 Defenders and Natural Resources Defense Council members and online activists. Only time will tell if it happens.

Wildlife Services spends millions in taxpayer dollars each year killing native carnivores. It would make better sense to modify ranching practices to make livestock less vulnerable to attack. Techniques such as timed birthing, night-corralling when offspring are young and increasing human presence with range-riders would also benefit livestock owners by reducing losses from birthing complications, injuries, digestive and respiratory disease.

But because of Wildlife Services’ lack of transparency, we don’t actually know how much their lethal control actions cost. They also do not track the amount of time and money spent implementing non-lethal techniques, so finding an appropriate balance between the two is almost impossible.

Taxpayers need to know what kind of methods Wildlife Services is implementing if the program is to be improved. We hope a strong audit will lead to some major changes that will ensure that this program, funded by the American taxpayer, uses the most effective methods to protect livestock and wolves.