A coalition of environmental groups is taking on another one of the federal programs that helps ranchers who run their livestock on public lands across the West.
They want to dramatically reduce or kill all funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services agency. The agency moves and kills mostly predators that eat cattle, sheep and other livestock using traps, aerial shooting and sometimes even poison.
The agency spends more than $100 million annually and kills about 1.6 million animals a year. For opponents of ranching on public lands and wildlife protection groups it’s a low-hanging fruit.
They can appeal to people who want to cut federal spending and people who love animals. That covers a lot of the political landscape.
The effort to cut the budget was made in the early 1990s when the agency was known as Animal Damage Control. Western senators like Larry Craig successfully shielded it.
The Clinton Administration soon realized its plan to reintroduce wolves in the Northern Rockies was dependent on have the agency available to control depredating wolves. In Idaho and Montana its staff became more skilled at working with wolf lovers as well as ranchers and some of the pressure to get rid of them eased.
But in the Southwest, where reintroduction of the Mexican wolf isn’t going so good, Wildlife Services is viewed as part of the problem instead of part of the solution not only by environmentalists but wildlife managers in states like New Mexico. It is viewed strictly as a tool of the livestock industry and not a neutral player.
So its no surprise that one of the major voices in the coalition against Wildlife Services is the WildEarth Guardians, a new group that includes the old Forest Guardians from New Mexico and Sinipu, a wolf advocacy group from Colorado. They are joined by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Ranchers have long told me that Wildlife Services was needed because predator management, left to them, who not be coordinated and would actually result in more animal killings, not less. They resent the implication that it is just another subsidy for their grazing operations, instead characterizing the agency as a necessary tool to balance their needs with that of wildlife.