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September 15, 2010

Humane, Effective Predator Control

You don't need to kill wildlife to protect livestock

  • Non-lethal strategies can keep livestock safe without killing off predators, who are essential to healthy ecosystems.

The number of sheep, cows, and other livestock killed by predators annually is comparatively small, but still coyotes, mountain lions, and predators are demonized.

Government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, responds to ranchers’ fears by killing predators with outdated, ineffective, cruel, and ecologically reckless methods.

Humane Strategies

The humane methods described below have been shown to substantially reduce—or end—conflicts with predators, without killing them. These methods are especially effective when two or more are used simultaneously by ranchers in a given area.

 

  • Guard Animals—Dogs, donkeys, burros, and llamas protect sheep and goats by harassing and chasing off any predators that approach. (Human guards are effective as well.)

     

  • Fencing—Various fencing styles have been proven to keep coyotes out of sheep pastures and penning livestock during lambing and calving seasons reduces losses during these critical periods of the year.

     

  • Scare Devices—Devices (strobe lights, firecrackers, and noisemakers) that light up, make sounds, or move--or all three at irregular intervals--help to protect livestock during lambing and calving seasons.

     

  • Enclosing mothers during lambing and calving seasons—Bringing ewes and cows into buildings or pens just before they give birth protects both the mothers and offspring from predators. Keeping mother and lamb together in a shed until the lamb gains some strength increases the lamb’s chances of survival. Synchronizing livestock birthing seasons with those of wild prey species has also proven useful.

     

  • Concentrating sheep into smaller areas—There's safety in numbers.

     

  • Carcass Removal—Removing the bodies of dead livestock from fields and pastures denies scavengers, such as coyotes, a free meal and reduces the chances that they’ll develop a taste for livestock.

     

One success story

In 2000, commissioners in Marin County, Calf., developed a comprehensive non-lethal predator management program. Of the 29 ranches operating in Marin, 18 set aside lethal methods. Instead, they used a combination of 22 guard dogs, 19 llamas, 24.6 miles of electric fencing, 16 strobe light and radio devices, and a number of sheep bells. The cost was $40,000 a year.

Over five years, County Agricultural Commissioner Stacy Carlsen reports that the non-lethal strategies did a better job protecting livestock than Wildlife Services’ lethal methods: an average annual livestock loss of 2.2 percent versus more than five percent.

Why ranchers don't use humane methods

For one thing, they don’t know about them. Wildlife Services agents promote poisoning, trapping, and other deadly methods and ignore humane strategies.

Secondly, there’s no economic incentive. The government heavily subsidizes lethal predator control programs, but it generally doesn’t help pay for non-lethal programs.

Wildlife Services’ failure to provide ranchers with non-lethal alternatives and advocate for financial incentives fuels a perpetual cycle that is expensive, cruel, and of no use in resolving long-term livestock loss problems.

What we can do

Project Coyote provides a good example of the many resources available on coexisting peacefully with a predator species, including the PDF "Coyotes in Our Midst."

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