Predator Funding Challenges
March 31, 2005
By Ron Daines
March/April 2005 -- Federally funded programs to manage livestock predators generate far more economic activity than they cost. That's the conclusion drawn by Mike Bodenchuk, Utah director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services.
"We don't take enough animals anymore to control predators," said Bodenchuk, but Wildlife Services efforts to manage predators still pays off, according to an economic evaluation conducted on his agency's results.
He cited studies that show that without management, the rate of predation runs around 5.7 percent for adult sheep and 17.5 percent for lambs. With management, losses drop sharply to 1.6 percent for adult sheep and 6 percent for lambs.
For goats, he said, predation without management hits 49 percent for adults and 64 percent for kids; with management, the rate drops to 12 percent for all goats. And for calves, unmanaged predation takes 3.6 percent, a figure that drops to 0.8 percent when predators are managed.
The differences between unmanaged and managed predators, said Bodenchuk, means dollars saved for the livestock industry. In the above categories, the prevented losses amounted to $62 million, and that doesn't include losses for poultry or swine. (An economic multiplier of three means the $62 million would generate more than $186 million in economic activity.)
Using 1998 figures of $9 million in direct federal spending to manage predators and $11 million more in cooperative spending, results in a benefit-cost ratio of 3-1 for all contributions; a 7-1 ratio for federal contributions alone.
"We're making money for the Treasury," said Bodenchuk. "Apply a nominal tax rate, say 15 percent, on the total economic activity generated (by managing predators) and it pays for itself."
He said other non-economic factors result from predation. For example, when sheep numbers drop, so do wildlife numbers. And when bighorn sheep were introduced into the California Sierra-Nevada's unmanaged mountain lions ate them.
"Some bighorn sheep will avoid critical habitat to avoid cougars," said Bodenchuk.
Joe Harper, a Virginia sheep producer who last year lost 200 animals to coyotes, suggested the need to designate more funding to manage predatory animals.
"We're getting more funding for wildlife, but it's being funneled to areas like Canadian geese and human health with less for livestock protection," said Harper.
Mike Worthen, western region director for Wildlife Services, acknowledged that funding for his agency's efforts in the West grew to $47 million in 2004, up from $29 million in 1994. But federal dollars remained fairly flat ($13.24 million in 1994 and $13.98 million in 2004), while cooperative funds more than doubled to $33.04 million from $15.71 million.
At the same time, he said, the agency's costs have shot up. For example, the cost of supporting a wildlife specialist (including salary, benefits, travel, hazard pay, dog and horse hire) jumped 52 percent during the period to $61,530. Other costs have spiraled as well. The hourly cost for a fixed-wing airplane jumped to $243 in 2004 from $112 in 1994, while helicopter rental rose to $687 an hour from $472.
Worthen said that if federal allocations hold course, and funding remains flat through 2008, cooperative funding will have to grow to $48.01 million just to maintain the current program.
Meanwhile, other factors will likely add to Wildlife Services' costs, including expenses to upgrade management information systems, to purchase radio communication systems and to deal with wolves that are expanding their territory into states surrounding reintroduction areas.