Agriculture losses to predators a real concern

Cattle and calf predation losses due to predators in Texas totaled 4,100 and 35,000 head valued at over $18 million in 2005 (NASS 2006) and 6,000 and 40,000 head valued at over $19.4 million in 2010 (NASS 2011)

When Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton penned the script for Disney's hit movie "The Lion King," they undoubtedly understood they were developing a simple way of introducing the idea of predation as normal to young minds.

The Grammy-award winning song "Circle of Life," which served as the movie's theme, was all about the natural process of life and death in the animal kingdom.

While children the world over embraced the ideas and principles the movie represented, animal predation remains an uncomfortable subject for many adults, especially those who wish to protect and defend animals regardless of the circumstances.

Animal biologists and most people associated with rural life in Texas can be counted among those who value the life and well being of all animals, both domestic and wild. They also generally understand that the circle of life includes efforts to properly manage animal populations. They understand that over-population, for example, is a far greater killer of animals than predation. Even responsible hunters tell us that managing wildlife is critical to the welfare of animals.

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The United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) released the latest comprehensive environmental assessment of mammal predation last month, outlining the extent of the problem by geographic region and the impact of both traditional and alternative methods of dealing with predation as it relates to agriculture.

According to the assessments, native predatory wildlife performs a vital role in a healthy ecosystem; however, predatory animals also cause damage or pose a threat to resources, including threats to people. To address damages associated with predatory animals in Texas, USDA-APHIS (Wildlife Services Division) teamed with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) to develop an assessment of and a strategy for animal predation problems.

The final environmental assessment is now available for public comment.

Agriculture losses to predation

During 2001, for example, crop and livestock losses from wildlife in the United States totaled $944 million, with field crop losses totaling $619 million, livestock and poultry losses totaling $178 million, and losses of vegetables, fruits, and nuts totaling $146 million. Those losses include destruction of or damage to crops in the field and death or injury to livestock.

Predators are responsible for preying upon a wide variety of livestock, including cattle, sheep, goats, swine, exotic pen-raised game, other hoofed-stock, and poultry. For example, cattle and calves are vulnerable to predation, especially during calving. Sheep, goats, and poultry are highly susceptible to predation throughout the year.

Livestock losses due to predation can cause economic hardships to farmers and ranchers, and without effective ways to reduce predation rates, economic losses from predation can increase. Not all producers suffer losses to predators; however, for producers who do suffer livestock losses caused by predators, those losses can be heavy.

In 2009, farm and ranch commodities generated over $16.5 billion in annual sales in Texas. Of this, livestock production, primarily cattle, sheep, swine, and poultry, accounted for about 64.2 percent of total agricultural commodity cash receipts.

Near the beginning of 2010, Texas livestock inventories included 13,300,000 cattle and calves, 830,000 sheep and lambs, 760,000 swine, and 1,105,000 goats. In addition, farmers and ranchers produce other livestock, including native deer, exotic species, equine, and poultry in Texas.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in 2005 reported that predators killed 16,000 adult sheep and 41,000 lambs in Texas during 2004, valued at $1,600,000 and $2,706,000, respectively. In 2009, the NASS (2010) reported that predators killed 23,000 adult sheep and 48,000 lambs in the State, valued at $2,254,000 and $3,120,000, respectively.

Coyotes are big killers

In 2004, survey participants identified coyotes as responsible for 47 percent of the sheep losses associated with animal predators, while dogs accounted for 2 percent. Bobcats killed 11 percent, and mountain lions and fox accounted for 2 percent of the losses, while coyotes, bobcats, dogs, fox, and mountain lions were responsible for 54 percent, 17 percent, 7 percent, 5 percent, and 2 percent of lamb losses, respectively.

Cattle and calf predation losses due to predators in Texas totaled 4,100 and 35,000 head valued at over $18 million in 2005 (NASS 2006) and 6,000 and 40,000 head valued at over $19.4 million in 2010 (NASS 2011). Of the animal predators identified as causing losses to cattle in 2010, mountain lions/bobcats, coyotes, and dogs were responsible for about 28 percent, 22 percent, and 7 percent of the losses, respectively (NASS 2011). Of the calf loss, coyotes, mountain lions/bobcats, and dogs were responsible for 40 percent, 15 percent, and 9 percent of the losses, respectively (NASS 2011).

While predation remains a significant problem in Texas and the nation, addressing the problem presents a challenge several reasons. Wildlife is a valued, important public resource. Wildlife can have either positive or negative values, depending on the perspectives and circumstances of individuals.

In general, people regard wildlife as providing economic, recreational, and aesthetic benefits. Knowing that wildlife exists in the natural environment provides a positive benefit to many people. However, the behavior of animals may result in damage to agricultural resources, natural resources, property, and may threaten human safety. Animals, by and large, have no intent to do harm.

Environmental assessment

The purpose of the recent environmental assessments (EA) is to evaluate cumulatively projects in Texas to determine damage and overall threats from predators to agricultural resources, property, natural resources, and to human safety. The EA will assist in determining if the proposed cumulative management of damage could have a significant impact on the human environment in each geographic district.

The goal of the EA is to conduct a coordinated program to alleviate damage caused by predators while protecting the environment, including the impact on the human population.

The EA was prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to facilitate planning, promote interagency coordination, streamline program management, clearly communicate to the public the analysis of individual and cumulative impacts of proposed activities, and to evaluate and determine potential for significant or cumulative effects from the alternative approaches developed to meet the need for action.

To review the final EA and the traditional and alternative methods of action being considered to address predation problems in select region of Texas, interested parties can connect to the documents through this link.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has regulatory authority to manage populations of most native wildlife species in the State. To assist with identifying additional issues and alternatives to managing damage associated with predators in Texas, the environmental assessments for each affected district will be available to the public for review and comment prior to the issuance of a final decision.

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