- Days left
Now that Obama is in control of the government, one of the big priorities of animal advocates -- even bigger than getting the Obama family a shelter dog -- is the elimination of the USDA's Wildlife Services Department, which spends $117 million a year in a Sisyphean quest to exterminate predators.

They kill about 1.5 million birds (mainly starlings) and 150,000 animals (mainly coyotes). All of this is in the name of protecting livestock -- or, in the case of the starlings, grain -- and ironically, often grain farmers are growing for birdseed. The beef and sheep producers say they lose $125 million a year to predators and claim the number would be much higher without the federal help.

The current agency, the Wildlife Services Department, stems from a 1931 law -- condemned by biologists -- that aimed to get rid of, or at least dramatically reduce, wolves, coyotes, gophers, prairie dogs, bobcats and mountain lions. Alston Chase, in his meticulous and widely-read history of wildlife management, Playing God in Yellowstone, traces it back further. In 1885 Congress created the Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammology to protect wildlife, in particular ducks. But in 1907, the agency was subverted when western cattlemen and ranchers asked the federal government to step in and kill anything that might threaten livestock.

Remarkably, we're still paying for that kind of discredited management a century later. As Chase documented, the policies never quite worked. Managers would pick out good animals to protect and kill bad species -- often in national parks and while denying the work to the public. But that would produce too many of the "good" species, which would overproduce and destroy the land they grazed on. That's the story of elk in Yellowstone and deer all around the country.

While the Agriculture Department has been on a century-long coyote-killing spree, the number of coyotes has flourished. Their populations have expanded, pushing east and north. Hunters have a reflexive suspicion of anything involving animal welfare, but they don't like the proposal either. Instead of wasting tax money on eliminating predators, they'd rather have governments charge for hunting licenses and go shoot the animals themselves. Certainly if we agreed the animals needed to be eliminated, that would be a smarter way to do it. Though, I have a hard time imagining anybody relishing a weekend of shooting starlings.

Biologists also question whether killing off predators actually protects cattle. Some prefer non-lethal methods --anything from sheepdogs to tainting sheep carcasses with foul-tasting chemicals. The broad poisonings and killings go way beyond the targeted species. I could not find a list of killed animals anywhere on the Department of Agriculture's website, so I'll have to go by these numbers from WildEarth Guardians, one of 115 environmental groups petitioning the federal government to stop the program.

In 2007 the agency killed 526 dogs, 1,130 cats, 240 gray wolves and four Mexican gray wolves -- which are critically endangered and something we're spending money to painstakingly restore. Their entire population is estimated at 52 and in the last four years Wildlife Services has killed off nine of them. From 2004 to 2007, we also paid to kill about 2,000 badgers, 8,000 bobcats, a couple fishers, 23 ringtails, 17,000 foxes including about 90 swift foxes. In 2005 to 2007 we averaged killing 294 endangered animals a year through this ham-fisted program. In 2007 we also killed off 41 osprey, 524 herons and 15,739 cormorants.

The program isn't just a huge waste of tax dollars. It's another example of mismanaging wildlife for a narrow set of interests. Let's believe everything the ranchers say for a minute and imagine a world where they had losses of $500 million a year. I'm a big meat eater, so I'd be paying more. But not much. It works out to about $1 or $2 in higher meat prices per American for an entire year. Predator control program assumes ranchers have the right to control the wilderness that belongs to all of us. It forgets the booming wildlife watching hobby and business. About 71 million Americans go wildlife watching and spend $46 billion a year doing it. How excited would you have been to have seen an osprey or fisher or heard a wolf on your last trip to a park? We're now a nation willing to pay money to see animals--yet we're still paying federal workers to go kill them.

Photo by Terry Ross

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Banking Services 101

Understand your bank's services, and how to get the most from them

View Course »

Introduction to Retirement Funds

Target date funds help you maintain a long term portfolio.

View Course »

TurboTax Articles

What is IRS Form 8824: Like-Kind Exchange

Ordinarily, when you sell something for more than what you paid to get it, you have a capital gain; when you sell it for less than what you paid, you have a capital loss. Both can affect your taxes. But if you immediately buy a similar property to replace the one you sold, the tax code calls that a "like-kind exchange," and it lets you delay some or all of the tax effects. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses Form 8824 for like-kind exchanges.

What are ABLE Accounts? Tax Benefits Explained

Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts allow the families of disabled young people to set aside money for their care in a way that earns special tax benefits. ABLE accounts work much like the so-called 529 accounts that families can use to save money for education; in fact, an ABLE account is really a special kind of 529.

What is IRS Form 8829: Expenses for Business Use of Your Home

One of the many benefits of working at home is that you can deduct legitimate expenses from your taxes. The downside is that since home office tax deductions are so easily abused, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tends to scrutinize them more closely than other parts of your tax return. However, if you are able to substantiate your home office deductions, you shouldn't be afraid to claim them. IRS Form 8829 helps you determine what you can and cannot claim.

What is IRS Form 8859: Carryforward of D.C. First-Time Homebuyer Credit

Form 8859 is a tax form that will never be used by the majority of taxpayers. However, if you live in the District of Columbia (D.C.), it could be the key to saving thousands of dollars on your taxes. While many first-time home purchasers in D.C. are entitled to a federal tax credit, Form 8859 calculates the amount of carry-forward credit you can use in future years, not the amount of your initial tax credit.

What is IRS Form 8379: Injured Spouse Allocation

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has the power to seize income tax refunds when a taxpayer owes certain debts, such as unpaid taxes or overdue child support. Sometimes, a married couple's joint tax refund will be seized because of a debt for which only one spouse is responsible. When that happens, the other spouse is said to be "injured" and can file Form 8379 to get at least some of the refund.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

1 Comment

Filter by:
hello sharon

Our last name is spelled the same. are you from the south?

December 28 2011 at 1:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply