Why killing coyotes doesn’t make livestock safer


Few Americans probably know that their tax dollars paid to kill 76,859 coyotes in 2016. The responsible agency was Wildlife Services (WS), part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its mission is to “resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist.” This broad mandate includes everything from reducing bird strikes at airports to curbing the spread of rabies.

Controlling predators that attack livestock is one of the agency’s more controversial tasks. WS uses nonlethal techniques, such as livestock guard dogs and fladry – hanging strips of cloth from fences, where they flutter and deter predators. But every year it also kills tens of thousands of predators, including bears, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, hawks, cougars and wolves.

However, there is no clear evidence that lethal control works to reduce human-predator conflict. In fact, it can even make the problem worse. At the same time, research shows that predators play key roles in maintaining healthy ecosystems. As a conservation biologist specializing in human-wildlife conflicts, I see growing evidence that it is time to reconsider lethal control.

Warfare on the range

Coyotes have been a target ever since European explorers first arrived in their territory centuries ago. Nonetheless, their range has expanded from the western plains across most of the continent.

The most common reason for killing coyotes is to reduce predation of livestock, such as sheep and calves. In a 2015 USDA report on sheep losses, ranchers reported how many of their animals died in 2014 and how they died. Twenty-eight percent of adult sheep losses and 36 percent of lamb losses were attributed to predators. Of those animals, ranchers stated that 33,510 adult sheep (more than half of total predation losses) and 84,519 lambs (nearly two-thirds of all predation losses) were killed by coyotes.

Domestic sheep killed by a coyote in California. CDFW/Flickr, CC BY

According to the American Sheep Industry Association, about UD$20.5 million of ranchers’ losses in 2014 (roughly one-fifth of their total losses) were attributed to coyotes. Importantly, however, these numbers were based on self-reported data and were not verified by wildlife professionals. External review would be useful because even experienced ranchers may have trouble determining in some cases whether a sheep was killed by a coyote or a dog (dogs are second only to coyotes in reported predation on livestock), or died from other causes and later was scavenged by coyotes.

To keep coyotes in check, WS employees set neck snares and other traps, shoot coyotes on the ground and from planes and helicopters, arm sheep with collars containing liquid poison and distribute M-44 “bombs” that inject sodium cyanide into the mouths of animals that chew on them.

As in warfare, there is collateral damage. M-44s killed more than 1,100 domestic dogs between 2000 and 2012. Scientists have also criticized WS for unintentionally killing numerous animals and birds, including federally protected golden and bald eagles, while failing to do any studies of how its actions affected nontarget species. Early this year the American Society of Mammalogists called for more scientific scrutiny of the policy of killing large predators.

How effective is lethal control?

It is understandable for struggling ranchers to blame coyotes for economic losses, since kills leave tangible signs and killing predators seems like a logical solution. However, a widely cited 2006 study called coyotes scapegoats for factors that were more directly related to the decline of sheep ranching in the United States.

The author, Dr. Kim Murray Berger, who was then a research biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, built and tested a series of statistical models to explain the declining number of sheep being bred in the United States. She found that variables including the price of hay, wage rates and the price of lamb explained most of the decline, and that the amount of money spent on predator control had little effect.

Other research indicates that even if predation is one factor in ranchers’ economic losses, lethal control is not the best way to reduce it.

Warning in area baited with cyanide traps, Sandoval, New Mexico (click to zoom).Killbox/Flickr, CC BY-NC

One 2016 analysis reviewed studies that compared lethal and nonlethal strategies for controlling livestock predation. Lethal methods ranged from civilian hunts to government culls. Nonlethal methods included fladry, guard animals, chemical repellents and livestock protection collars. The review found that nonlethal methods generally reduced livestock predation more effectively, and that predation actually temporarily increased after use of some lethal methods.

Why would predation increase after predators are killed? When pack animals such as coyotes, dingoes and wolves are killed, the social structure of their packs breaks down. Female coyotes become more likely to breed and their pups are more likely to survive, so their numbers may actually increase. Packs generally protect territories, so breaking up a pack allows new animals to come in, raising the population. In addition, some new arrivals may opportunistically prey on livestock, which can increase predation rates.

These findings extend beyond the United States. A three-year study in South Africa found that using nonlethal methods to protect livestock from jackals, caracals and leopards cost ranchers less than lethal methods, both because less predation occurred and because the nonlethal methods cost less.

In Australia dingoes occupy a similar ecological niche to coyotes and are similarly targeted. In a recent case study at a cattle station, researchers found that ceasing all lethal and nonlethal predator control reduced predation of cattle by dingoes as the social structure of the resident dingoes stabilized.

Even research by USDA supports this pattern. In a recent study, researchers from several universities, USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center and the nonprofit advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife analyzed wolf predation rates for sheep producers on public grazing lands in Idaho. Predation was 3.5 times higher in zones where lethal control was used than in adjacent areas where nonlethal methods were used.

A USDA biologist installs fladry to deter predators on a ranch near Jackson, Wyoming. Pamela Manns, USAD/Flickr

A high-stakes placebo

Overuse of subsidized predator control is comparable to primary care doctors overprescribing antibiotics to human patients. Patients often demand antibiotics for common colds, although doctors understand that these infections are caused mainly by viruses, so antibiotics will be ineffective. But receiving a prescription makes patients feel that their concerns are being addressed. Lethal control is a high-stakes placebo for the problems that ail ranchers, and misusing it can increase problems for ranchers and the ecosystems around them.

Human-wildlife conflict is a complex issue. Often, as some colleagues and I showed in our recent book, “Human-Wildlife Conflict,” the real problem is confrontations between humans about how to deal with wildlife.

This means that we need to choose prevention and mitigation methods carefully. If cultural values and prevailing community attitudes are not taken into account, attempts to change ranching practices could increase hostility toward predators and make it harder for conservation groups to work with ranchers.

Federal employees at Wildlife Services are under tremendous pressure from the agricultural industry. And farmers and ranchers often act based on deeply rooted traditions and cultural attitudes. It rests with wildlife professionals to use current and well-grounded science to address human concerns without harming the environment.

Why Not Become a Sea Lion Advocate?

According to an MSN news article entitled, Golden Gate Bridge jumper says sea lion saved him, “A man who jumped off San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to try to take his own life and was kept afloat by a sea lion said Wednesday suicide prevention was now his life’s work.”

Witnesses who saw the incident said a sea lion kept him afloat until the Coast Guard sent a rescue boat. Kevin Hines told MSN news, “I really thought it was a shark and I thought it was going to take off a leg and I was panicking. And then it just didn’t, it just kept circling beneath me. I remember floating atop the water and this thing just bumping me, bumping me up.”

One of the witnesses told Hines, “I was less than two feet away from you when you jumped. It haunted me until this day; it was no shark, it was a sea lion and people above looking down believed it to be keeping you afloat until the Coast Guard brought a ride behind you.”

Hines stated, “[Witnesses] saw me laying atop the water and being bumped.” He added, “This thing beneath me didn’t stop or didn’t go away until I heard the boat behind me.”

After all our species has done and continues to do to sea lions—hunted them by the thousands for their fur and oil while feeding their flesh to dogs or captive minks; vilifying and putting a bounty on their heads forDSC_0129 competing with commercial fishermen; and forcing them to perform as trained “seals” in the circus, etc.—it’s incredible that one of these “lesser” mammals would go out of his or her way to save a human.

If not for the sea lion keeping him afloat, Hines would very likely have gone under and drowned before the rescue boat arrived.  While it’s noble that he is now devoting his life to suicide prevention, if he really wants to be altruistic, why not advocate for the one who went out of their way to prevent his suicide. It seems to me that if anyone has a good reason to become a marine mammal advocate, he does—he owes them his life.

While the human population grows by 350,000 per day, Steller sea lions, dsc_0224whose total pre-persecution numbers were never more than 300,000, have been driven below 100,000 and are still in decline. In Alaska, the Western segment of Stellars is down to a mere 18% of their historic numbers. Meanwhile, starved California sea lion pups are washing up dead on the beaches.

Sea lions are still being scapegoated, branded and shot, all for eating fish—the only food they have.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Wildlife Service Eyes Migratory Canada geese Next

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson


Avian flu detected at two more farms in B.C. as outbreak continues to spread

Birds at two more farms in southwestern British Columbia have tested positive for avian influenza, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Wednesday — underscoring the difficulty facing officials attempting to contain the virus.The outbreak began last week, when turkeys and chickens at two farms in the Fraser Valley tested positive for the H5N2 strain of the disease.

The virus has now been detected at eight locations on seven farms, leaving 155,000 birds either dead or set to be euthanized. The outbreak has prompted surveillance and control measures affecting half of the province, as well as a growing list of trade restrictions on B.C. or Canadian poultry.

Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, Canada’s chief veterinary officer, said the new infections did not come as a surprise and he suggested more could turn up in the coming days. Indeed, another farm was also being investigated as suspicious, he said.

“The identification of additional farms is not unexpected, given that avian influenza is highly contagious,” Kochhar said during a conference call with reporters.

“Our efforts are directed to controlling the avian influenza virus from spreading. In spite of those measures, there is a possibility that this could show up at other farms. This is something that is attributed to the highly virulent, highly pathogenic nature of the avian influenza virus.”

The affected farms are clustered within several kilometres of each other in Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

In each case, the farms were immediately placed under quarantine and plans were made to destroy any birds that had not already been killed by the virus.

Earlier this week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced a control zone covering the southern half of B.C., where restrictions have been placed on the movement of poultry. Those restrictions are more strict in the area immediately around the affected farms.

It’s not yet clear what caused the outbreak, though two farms where the virus was detected had received chickens from a previously infected facility.

Officials are looking into the possibility that migrating wild birds introduced the virus into the region, though Kochhar said there’s nothing conclusive yet. He said there was no evidence the virus had been circulating among migrating birds and a wild bird monitoring program hadn’t found any unusual increases in animal deaths.

Avian influenza poses little danger to people as long as poultry meat is handled and cooked properly.

It can, however, put the poultry industry at risk.

Previous outbreaks in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada similarly led to the destruction of tens of thousands of birds. The most serious, a 2004 outbreak in the Fraser Valley, prompted federal officials to order the slaughter of about 17 million birds.

Since last week, eight countries have placed restrictions on poultry and poultry products. Singapore was added to that list on Wednesday, joining the United States, Mexico, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Some of those restrictions, such as those put in place by Japan, apply to poultry from all of Canada.

Kochhar said he hoped to convince authorities in other countries to limit any trade restrictions to the region affected by the outbreak.

“We have sent our information to them in terms of our primary control zone, which is southern British Columbia, and have requested them to revisit their restrictions on poultry and poultry products from the rest of Canada,” he said.

Consumers are unlikely to notice the outbreak at the grocery store.

The marketing group the B.C. Turkey Farmers has said about 25,000 turkeys meant for the provincial Christmas market have been lost — a relatively small proportion of the 3.3 million kilograms of turkey typically produced for the holiday season.

Likewise, the number of chickens destroyed due to the outbreak pales in comparison with the 160 million kilograms of chicken produced in B.C. each year.


Meanwhile, bird Fluis  rampant on B.C. chicken/turkey “farms” (read: concentration camp). Is there a scapegoat connection or is it just a coincidence?


A new wildlife service report on the number of Canada geese wintering in the Lower Columbia River and Willamette Valley areas of Washington and Oregon shows the population surpasses the goal set for the migratory birds and may trigger a revision of management plans.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2014 report estimates 281,300 cacklers spend the winter in the two states, where they cause considerable agricultural damage, especially to grain and grass seed fields. The 2013 estimate was 312,200. Year-to-year population fluctuations are common; the wildlife service has set a population goal of 250,000 geese.

Crop damage from geese has been a concern for decades. Farmers argue they are essentially feeding the birds and absorbing damage for the sake of maintaining the population for hunters or nature lovers elsewhere. But the latest report hopefully will open the door to discussions of a longer hunting season or more opportunities to haze geese out of fields, said Roger Beyer, executive director of the Oregon Seed Council.

However, the situation is complicated by migratory bird treaties and compacts involving Native American tribes, the U.S., Canada and the states of Oregon, Washington, Alaska and California, Beyer said. “It’s a long slow process,” he said.

The Oregon Farm Bureau’s wildlife committee will be discussing geese — and wolves and Greater sage-grouse — at the bureau’s annual convention next week in Salishan. Wildlife officials have been invited to discuss the population report.

A 1997 report by the Oregon Department of Agriculture estimated annual crop and livestock damage by wildlife at $147 million, with more than $100 million attributed to deer and elk. Damage from geese was estimated at $14.9 million.

Take the Pledge: Boycott Columbia River Salmon



Meanwhile, this bumper sticker is a common sight on rigs owned by commercial salmon fishermen in the area:


And shot sea lions are a common sight on beaches off the Oregon/Washington coast:



From Sea Lion Defense Brigade:

In loving memory of the 3 sea lions KILLED this week at Bonneville Dam by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

These scapegoated sea lions had nothing to do with the decline of salmon and were taken from their friends and family way too soon.

Humans have many food options, sea lions do not.

Rest in Peace C020, C029 and C930.
We serve in your memory.SLDB

Violent Seal Killers Threaten Sea Shepherd UK Crew – Caught on Camera

[“The Scottish government issues companies such as the Scottish Wild Salmon Company with licenses to shoot seals, which they claim threaten fish stocks. However the legislation requires that seals may only ever be shot as a last resort after all other methods of control have been applied.”
Sound familiar? Just as the wolves are scapegoated for preying on elk, seals and sea lions are scapegoated for eating salmon. Yet another case of an overinflated sense of entitlement. 
This is a huge, worldwide problem for wildlife. Wherever there’s fish that humans want to exploit, the marine mammals pay the price for human greed.]



Sea Shepherd crewmembers were being threatened with violence by the Scottish Wild Salmon Company’s seal killersSea Shepherd crewmembers were being threatened with violence by the Scottish Wild Salmon Company’s seal killers
Photo: Sea Shepherd UK
As predicted by Sea Shepherd on Good Friday, the killing team of the Scottish Wild Salmon Company escalated tensions in the Scottish seal killing grounds with an unprecedented attack on a member of Sea Shepherd UK’s campaign crew.

As residents of Gardenstown were preparing for breakfast on Easter Monday, Sea Shepherd crewmembers were already being threatened with violence by the Scottish Wild Salmon Company’s seal killers.

In a dramatic 8 a.m. confrontation which took place away from the Harbour in the town’s New Ground, three employees of the Scottish Wild Salmon Company, one carrying a rifle, cornered just one of our crewmembers, leaving him fearful of extreme violence.

The crewmember had the presence of mind to keep his camera running throughout, and the situation was saved when other members of the Sea Shepherd campaign crew arrived with their own cameras. Realizing that any further illegal acts on their part were being recorded, the thugs backed away and returned to their command base.

In a dramatic 8 a.m. confrontation which took place away from the Harbour in the town’s New Ground, three employees of the Scottish Wild Salmon Company, one carrying a rifle, cornered just one of our crewmembers, leaving him fearful of extreme violenceIn a dramatic confrontation, three employees of the Scottish Wild Salmon Company, cornered one of our crewmembers
Photo: Sea Shepherd UK
Sea Shepherd UK has now reported the situation and shown video footage to Police Scotland. Sea Shepherd UK is confident that charges can now be brought against the ringleader of the Scottish Wild Salmon Company’s out-of-control thugs.

Given the escalating situation, Sea Shepherd UK has now asked the Hunt Saboteurs Association to reactivate their undercover teams as well as introduce new covert operatives to the area. Other Sea Shepherd volunteers and specialist intervention teams are also now heading to Banffshire in order to defend Scottish seals from these violent people.

The Scottish government issues companies such as the Scottish Wild Salmon Company with licenses to shoot seals, which they claim threaten fish stocks. However the legislation requires that seals may only ever be shot as a last resort after all other methods of control have been applied. The actions of these companies themselves are drawing seals to the salmon. Seals in this area do not normally eat salmon, but when salmon netting companies trap wild fish in large numbers, it is only natural that the captured fish attract seals.  As we’ve seen with the sea lions on the Columbia River on the Oregon/Washington border here in the U.S., these animals are being targeted for the simple “crime” of eating fish. Moreover, the wild salmon that are heading up the coast are being caught by fishermen before they have a chance to spawn, so the fishing itself is killing this particular fishery and is therefore completely unsustainable.

The non-lethal solution is to deploy Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs), which the Scottish Wild Salmon Company does have available to them.  Unfortunately, lethal bullets are cheaper than the non-lethal alternative, and so, without effective policing by Marine Scotland (the agency responsible for the seal killing licenses), it is left to Sea Shepherd to once again uphold national and international laws which governments neither can’t nor won’t enforce.

Wolves and Coyotes are Ever the Scapegoats

(The following excerpt from the chapter, “War on Coyotes an Exercise in Futility and Cruelty,” in the book, Exposing the Big Game: Living Targets of a Dying Sport, parallels points I raised about wolves being incriminated in yesterday’s post—just substitute wolves for coyotes and sheepman for cattle rancher)…


In removing weak or diseased animals from a given gene pool, coyotes, as well as wolves and cougars, secure healthy traits for future generations. Furthermore, although introduced livestock (their wariness bred out of them through the domestication process) are far more vulnerable, it’s been documented that predators like coyotes would prefer to stick to their usual prey—yet they are ever the scapegoats.

As Jack Olsen, author of Slaughter the Animals, Poison the Earth, put it:

“By simple dint of pounding over and over on the same points, the sheep industry has succeeded in characterizing all predators as deadly killers that would rather dine on lamb than anything else that lives on the range. In the sheepman’s demonology of the coyote, every fallen sheep is brought down by coyotes. If Canis latrans comes across a dead sheep and plays his natural role as carrion-eater, the rancher shows teeth marks as proof of murder. If a sheep falls dead and the coyotes ignore the carcass, the sheepman charges an even more heinous crime: killing for pleasure. No matter what the predator does, a diabolical explanation is provided, and grandiose overstatement becomes the rule. Two lambs dying at birth are transformed into twenty lambs killed by coyotes.” 

Ordinarily a writer of true crime books, such as Son, a Psychopath and his Victims and I, the Creation of a Serial Killer (about a murderous trucker whose violence continuum began with a long history of cruelty to animals, including coyotes), Olson did not have to stray far from that genre in addressing the mentality of the kind of nutcase who would victimize coyotes.

Wildlife Photography Copyright Jim Robertson