Creative Thinking Helps Predator Control Programs

Creative Thinking Helps Predator Control Programs


Sheep Industry News Editor

(July 1, 2013) Within the past year, two state governments passed legislation to assist livestock producers and sportsmen alike with predator issues – mainly with coyotes. Like many states, funding was the leading concern when it came to the predator damage control programs in Utah and South Dakota; however, state legislators teamed up with state agencies and producer groups in a grass roots effort to increase permanent, ongoing funding for these vital programs.

For a number of years, Utah has had a unique partnership with a number of local, county, state and federal agencies to ensure that the livestock industries as well as sportsmen have had adequate predator control. This partnership was between the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services (WS), the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) as well as a number of land owners.

“Through this partnership, funding has been the limiting factor,” explains Sterling Brown, vice president of public policy for the Utah Farm Bureau Federation. “It is constantly a push-pull battle to gain additional funding for our state’s growing demand.”

With no to little increases from federal and state appropriations for predator control programs, the private sector was forced to contribute more money; however, it was not enough to meet the demand of the programs.

“In recent years, there has been a growing feeling that we need to be more aggressive in finding additional funding to meet the predator demands,” says Brown, explaining that several rural Utah Farm Bureau members got together and developed an idea of increasing Utah hunting permits to raise more money for predator control programs. Over time, Utah Farm Bureau, sportsman groups and the legislature agreed to a $5 increase.

“Hunters obviously have a lot at stake when it comes to predators. The deer population in recent years has declined for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is the increase in predators, particularly that of coyotes on the fawn populations,” explains Brown. “The hunting community has been scrambling to find the best options to reduce predators and let the deer population increase.”

This idea of increasing big game hunting permits gained traction in 2012 when Sen. David Hinkins from Orangeville sponsored S.B. 87 Predator Control Funding. This bill called for an additional $5 to be added to hunting licenses specifically for the Predator Control Restrict Account and used by the DWR to fund a predator control program of predatory animals. This fee is expected to generate $600,000 for the coyote bounty program.

At the same time, another piece of legislation was passed by the Utah state legislature – S.B. 245 or the Mule Deer Protection Act – which allocates a total of $750,000 of ongoing funding for the state’s predator control programs. As part of this funding, the DWR implemented a new predator control program that provides incentives for members of the public to remove coyotes. Participants in this program can receive $50 for each properly documented coyote that is killed in Utah. Although this program is designed to benefit mule deer populations by targeting coyotes, it comes as a benefit to the livestock industry as livestock and deer share many of the same lands in Utah.

Sponsored by Sen. Ralph Okerlund of Monroe, Utah, this bill allocates $250,000 to the DWR to combat predators that prey specifically on deer herds, $250,000 to USDA/WS for aerial predator control and the remaining $250,000 will be allocated to the Utah Department of Agricultural and Food to increase funding for the existing coyote bounty program.

According to John Shivik, mammals coordinator with the DWR, 6,724 coyotes have been turned in from September (the date when the agency starting payments) until mid-May which he says is in line with the DWR’s expectations.

“Based on the sheer magnitude of the number of coyotes checked in, the program is running rather smoothly,” says Shivik, explaining that it is too early to tell if the program is having any impact. The DWR will be looking at the locations of where the coyotes were killed and comparing that data with mule deer populations to see if progress is being made; however, Shivik says that will take a few years to sort out.

Talking about all the new funding for the state’s predator control programs, Brown says, “We feel like 2012 was a banner year to help sportsmen and livestock producers combat predators. So far we fill optimistic that we are on the right footing here and setting the stage of a brighter future for these groups.”

Those at the Utah Wool Growers Association concur. Matt Mickel, treasurer of the organization, says, “The Utah Wool Growers are thankful that the state legislature stepped up in good faith to help with our depredation issues from coyotes. We are thrilled to hear that many coyotes are being taken.”

Further to the northeast, members of the South Dakota state legislature this year passed an act to increase the surcharge on certain hunting licenses for predator control purposes, approve temporary funding provisions relating to predator control and to declare depredation an emergency.

“We are just being run over by coyotes and our predator boards were just flat out of money,” relays Rep. Betty Olson of Prairie City, who operates a ranch with her husband and introduced the legislation.

In South Dakota, a combination of county government, state and USDA funds, in addition to private funds collected through predator districts, are used to help manage depredation. According to Max Matthews, president of the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association, funding for the animal damage control program in South Dakota was cut in 2007 which lead to the elimination of the aerial hunting program and a couple trappers.

“This reduction to the animal damage control program could not have come at a worse time,” he explains. “The mange that had been hitting the coyotes was on the decline. As a result, the coyote numbers across the state were increasing at an alarming rate. The state trappers had too much area to cover and not enough time allocated to the program to be able to manage the coyote population.”

In the past few years, aerial hunting has returned to South Dakota through WS and although this has helped manage the coyote population, Matthews says their numbers are still increasing resulting in more dollars lost to the livestock industry.

This new legislation to help manage the coyote population, which was signed into law on March 25, went into effect on July 1 and increases the surcharge on certain hunting licenses from $5 to $6, in other words, raises the fee of hunting licenses by $1. Olson explains that the original $5 fee is deposited in a special fund known as the South Dakota sportsmen’s access and landowner depredation fund which deals with situations like deer in hay fields and geese in corn fields. However, the additional dollar will only be used for animal damage control programs such as increasing aerial hunting and reimbursing trappers.

“Although the legislation was scheduled to go into effect July 1, livestock producers needed the help immediately so we wrote a cash transfer clause into the bill. We borrowed $160,000 from the Department of Game, Fish and Parks to fill in the time gap,” Olson explains.

These funds will be repaid with interest based on the cash flow fund rate no later than June 30, 2014.

“We figured with the new revenue coming in, it should more than cover the loan by next year in addition to funding the program,” Olson relays, saying the program should bring in around $200,000 a year.

“The increase in funding should return the animal damage control program back to where it was six years ago,” explains Matthews. “Controlling the coyote population to a manageable number can only be done through the funding of an effective animal damage control program. Without the funding, the predation to livestock and wildlife cannot be controlled.”

As was the case in Utah, this legislation was seen as favorable by a majority of the sportsmen’s groups. South Dakota had also seen a decrease in wildlife due to the number of predators.

Olson worked on a number of pieces of legislation to assist livestock producers this year including:

  • S.B. 205 adds the wolf to a list of predators in South Dakota as soon as they are taken off the endangered species list. Olson explains that the wolf is considered endangered in the western side of the state, but not in the eastern side. The Missouri River marks the dividing line. Therefore, as of July 1, wolves were considered predators on the east side of the Missouri River; however, they remain protected until delisted on the western side of the river.
  • Due to the fact that local predator control districts are strapped for cash, H.B 1168 authorizes county commissions to increase their predator-control levies on sheep and cattle; however, Olson says this legislation must be passed by 51 percent of the livestock producers in the district in order to take effect.
  • H.B. 1167 restructures the policy advisory committee for animal damage control. As it stands currently only the animal damage control supervisor, the secretary of Game, Fish and Parks and the secretary of agriculture are the only three on this committee, which hadn’t been active since 2010. This bill that was passed adds a member from USDA/WS, the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association, the South Dakota Cattlemen Association, the South Dakota Stock Growers Association, the South Dakota Farmers Union, the South Dakota Farm Bureau and the South Dakota Wildlife Federation and requires the group to meet at least once per year.
  • H.B. 1083 revised the crime of rustling to include sheep and goats.
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