80th Anniversary of the Animal Damage Control Act -- No Celebration for Wildlife

This week marks the 80th anniversary of passage of the Animal Control Damage Control Act (7 USC 426-426c). It is not a time of celebration for wildlife in the United States; it is an anniversary of mourning -- for each one of the millions of coyotes, foxes, wolves, bears, mountain lions, bobcats, badgers, Canada geese, cormorants, black birds and other animals labeled as "pests" who have been killed under this Act.

Passed in 1931, the Animal Damage Control Act authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to "conduct campaigns for the destruction or control" of animals considered threats to agriculture/ranching interests. Eighty years ago, this Act codified the federal government's involvement in predator control. Under this arcane law, government agents continue to trap, snare, poison, and shoot any animal that "may" harm livestock, aquaculture, or agricultural crops.

Under this Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services (WS) program conducts its quiet, relentless war against North America's wildlife. In 2009 alone, WS killed more than 4 million animals in the United States including 115,000 mammalian carnivores; close to 90,000 were coyotes. Much of this killing takes place on public lands throughout the West.

United States citizens foot the bill for this carnage; approximately $120 million dollars are spent on this senseless and ecologically reckless program each year. State and county governments are provided incentives to contract with USDA WS through matching cooperative funding agreements.

Few Americans have heard of the euphemistically named "Wildlife Services" program and even fewer know that that their tax dollars pay federal agents to shoot wolves, coyotes and other predators from low-flying aircraft and to set poison bait and snares to trap and kill them.

An Alternative Approach

Public controversy over the USDA's predator control program and testing of the deadly poison Compound 1080 on coyotes in the Northern California county of Marin led to a decision by public officials to take an alternative approach to livestock-predator conflicts. In 2000, the Marin County Board of Supervisors voted to cease contracting with the federal agency and to instead adopt an alternative community-based program known as the Marin County Strategic Plan for Protection of Livestock and Wildlife. The program provides cost-share funds to assist ranchers with implementation of non-lethal predator deterrent methods including livestock guard dogs and llamas, improved fencing, and night corrals.

According to Marin County Agricultural Commissioner Stacy Carlsen, who oversees implementation of the non-lethal cost-share program, "Over six years...losses have fallen to 2.2 percent--and the program costs over $10,000 a year less than the old one," as reported in Bay Nature magazine. "For the first couple of years we couldn't tell if the [loss] reductions were a trend or a blip. Now, we can say there's a pattern....In a few years we'll be a model without anyone questioning our success."

This innovative model sets a precedent for meeting a wider compass of community needs and values where both agriculture and protection of wildlife are deemed important by the community.

A New Paradigm

Greater understanding of the ecological importance of native carnivores and increasing public opposition to lethal "control" have led to growing demand for humane and ecologically sound conservation practices. But despite shifting public attitudes and values, traditional predator/wildlife management techniques persist leading to increasing tension between conservationists and management institutions. This tension is reflected in increased litigation, legislation, and public ballot initiatives.

On this 80th anniversary of the Animal Damage Control Act, it's time for Congress and the Obama Administration to reform this Act- or do away with it altogether. We need a new paradigm in the way we coexist with native carnivores and other wildlife- one that recognizes their important ecological role and their intrinsic worth as beings who share finite space and time on this planet Earth.

For more information visit ProjectCoyote.org