Thanksgiving 2009, the USDA-Wildlife Services gunned down the entire Idaho-based, Basin Butte wolf pack -- including the pack's leader, Alpha Fe, and her pups -- from helicopters and airplanes. This same year, Wildlife Services aerial gunned approximately 200 more wolves in the Northern Rockies. "Wildlife Services" does not provide "services" to wildlife but rather it dishes out pain, mutilation, and death. Aerial gunning is just one of their many selected killing tools.
Aerial gunning involves shooting animals from low-flying aircraft on private and public lands. The federal government (USDA -- Wildlife Services), states (Wyoming and South Dakota), and private individuals engage in these practices -- often at taxpayers' expense. Killing a coyote from the air costs between $185 and $805 per animal .
The ecological damage: priceless.
Large-scale eradications of native carnivores such as coyotes are biologically expensive and inherently non-selective . Moreover, while not all coyotes or other native carnivores kill livestock, Wildlife Services and others use the "sledge hammer" approach -- that is, killing a large number so that the "offending animal" will be among the casualties; however, intensive lethal controls can affect coyote and other species' demographics [2, 3].
Coyotes, the species most persecuted by aerial gunning, use various breeding and emigration strategies to compensate for population losses . Yet, coyotes are ecologically important. By preying on smaller carnivores such as foxes, raccoons, skunks, and yes, housecats, they indirectly benefit bird and rodent populations [5-8]. Sage grouse have evolved with a suite of predators, and if their habitat is adequate, they will thrive and predator control is unnecessary . In other words, coyotes, like other top carnivores, enrich the biological diversity of their ecosystems.
Despite billions of tax dollars spent and tens of millions of native wildlife killed, the sheep industry did not benefit from these killing programs because the majority of its operating costs involve hay, labor, and lamb prices -- not losses from predation . The government's own data show that only 0.23% of the cattle inventory and 4% of the sheep inventory in the U.S. are killed by native carnivores and domestic dogs. Most livestock die from weather problems, birthing complications, disease, or starvation -- even in the Northern Rockies where wolves live .
Aerial gunning has other social costs too. Wildlife Services and others have experienced dozens of aircraft crashes resulting in terrible injuries and death. Flying closely to the ground while chasing coyotes or wolves leads to unwanted contact with wind shears, powerlines, trees, or other land formations. Gunners frequently shoot their own crafts.
It's time for agribusiness to take responsibility and use well-documented, non-lethal precautions to protect their livestock from native wildlife and not rely upon killing. Putting an end to aerial gunning programs are good for business, good for the environment, and good for the taxpayer.
- Wagner, K.K. and M.R. Conover, Effect of preventive coyote hunting on sheep losses to coyote predation. Journal of Wildlife Management, 1999. 63(2): p. 606-612.
- Mitchell, B.R., M.M. Jaeger, and R.H. Barrett, Coyote depredation management: current methods and research needs. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 2004. 32(4): p. 1209-1218.
- Lambert, C.M.S., et al., Cougar Population Dynamics and Viability in the Pacific Northwest. Journal of Wildlife Management, 2006. 70: p. 246-254.
- Crabtree, R. and J. Sheldon, Coyotes and canid coexistence in Yellowstone, in Carnivores in Ecosystems: The Yellowstone Experience, T. Clark, et al., Editors. 1999, Yale University Press: New Haven [Conn.]. p. 127-163.
- Ritchie, E.G. and C.N. Johnson, Predator interactions, mesopredator release and biodiversity conservation. Ecology Letters, 2009. 12: p. 982-998.
- Crooks, K.R. and M.E. Soule, Mesopredator release and avifaunal extinctions in a fragmented system. Nature, 1999. 400(6744): p. 563-566.
- Henke, S.E. and F.C. Bryant, Effects of coyote removal on the faunal community in western Texas. Journal of Wildlife Management, 1999. 63(4): p. 1066-1081.
- Mezquida, E.T., S.J. Slater, and C.W. Benkman, Sage-Grouse and indirect interactions: Potential implications of coyote control on Sage-Grouse populations. Condor, 2006. 108(4): p. 747-759.
- Hagen, C.A., Predation on Greater Sage-Grouse: Facts, Process, and Effects. Studies in Avian Biology, In Press.
- Berger, K.M., Carnivore-Livestock Conflicts: Effects of Subsidized Predator Control and Economic Correlates on the Sheep Industry. Conservation Biology, 2006. 20(3): p. 751-761.
- Bergstrom, B.J., et al., The Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf is Not Yet Recovered. BioScience, 2009. 59(11): p. 991-999.