After The Bee published reporter Tom Knudson's series on the federal government's predator control program, two U.S. congressmen – Reps. John Campbell, R-Irvine, and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. – have said they plan to ask the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate.
They point to waste of federal dollars and harm to ecosystems, as well as secretiveness about USDA Wildlife Services practices and spending.
Yes, Congress should investigate.
And Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar ought to establish an advisory committee to make recommendations on a new policy for predator control – including proposals to return Wildlife Services to the Department of the Interior, which has a mission to manage healthy ecosystems.
Immediately, Vilsack ought to make Wildlife Services contracts a matter of public record – as well as money received from states, counties, cities, livestock businesses and individual farmers and ranchers to control predators. Two-thirds of Wildlife Services spending comes from these "cooperators," one-third from the federal government.
All of it should be public.
A report on federal predator control noted that the program has a "built-in resistance to change" and that a new direction would "require substantial, even drastic, changes in control personnel and control methods, supported by new legislation, administrative changes, and methods of financing."
That was 1971, the Advisory Committee on Predator Control's "Cain Report," commissioned by President Richard Nixon's secretary of interior, Rogers Morton.
Yet little has changed in four decades.
As the 1971 report noted, "Control decisions are still based on the assumption of benefit rather than proof of need."
Still today, we have little data on cost, actual predator damage to livestock or wildlife, and control actions (such as where animals were killed or why).
But the issue is not just at the federal level.
For example, of the $5 million to $6 million a year that USDA Wildlife Services spends in California to control predatory animals, $3 million to $4 million comes from "cooperators" – the state, counties, cities, livestock businesses and individual farmers and ranchers – who, as the agency notes in its annual report, "have a vested interest in the program."
According to the information USDA provided to Knudson, only after he put in a formal Freedom of Information Act request, of $3.1 million California "cooperators" paid to Wildlife Services in 2010, $567,435 came from California state agencies – Fish & Game, State Parks, Human Services, Corrections. The bulk is contracts with Fish & Game to control mountain lions and wild pigs.
In 2010, 33 counties and five cities had contracts with Wildlife Services.
The state and every county and city should examine their contracts with USDA Wildlife Services to determine the effectiveness of the program and the methods used (guns, traps, snares and poison).
The state Senate and Assembly natural resources committees should exercise their oversight role.
County supervisors, in this time of budget hearings, also should be asking questions.
Predator control should be limited strictly to individual troublesome animals and areas where substantial damage or danger occurs – not the pre-emptive indiscriminate and unnecessary killing of wildlife uncovered in Knudson's series.
The taxpaying public should make that clear to officials at all levels of government.