Lethal predator control options discussed
In the second part of the American Sheep Industry Association’s (ASI) Research Update podcast regarding predator control, Host Jake Thorne is joined by Director of Texas Wildlife Services Michael Bodenchuk. Following the November episode, which focused on nonlethal predator control, ASI’s December podcast delves into lethal predator control.
“We don’t control predators, we control predation,” Bodenchuk says to lead off the episode. “We realize native predators play a large role in the ecosystem, so we intentionally try to minimize the impact on their populations while still meeting the goal of reducing damage to livestock.”
“Accomplishing this with nonlethal methods is preferred, but sometimes it isn’t practical or cost effective,” Bodenchuk adds. “Lethal removal of predators, when necessary, is part of an integrated predation management program.”
Important predators in sheep industry
Bodenchuk notes coyotes are the number one predator of sheep, lambs, calves and goats nationwide. Additionally, he says feral dogs, free-roaming dogs, mountain lions, bears, bobcats and fox are the most important predators in the sheep industry.
“Locally, producers may deal with other predators such as eagles, ravens, black vultures, wolves and feral hogs – on an increasing basis for producers in Texas and Oklahoma,” he says.
Bodenchuk points to the most recent research from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), which shows about 1.8 percent of the adult sheep inventory and 3.9 percent of the lamb crop was lost in 2014 to predators. According to NASS, these losses were valued over $32.5 million.
Bodenchuk says the study found coyotes were responsible for half – over 54 percent – of the reported losses, while 21 percent was attributed to feral dogs, five percent to mountain lions, five percent to bears and one percent to both bobcats and foxes.
While coyotes account for the majority of predation in the sheep industry, Bodenchuk notes a few other predators are actually harder to control.
“Wolves, mountain lions and bears can be tough to control because they kill sheep in surplus,” he says. ”A producer won’t know they are around until there are suddenly up to 30 or 40 kills. Also, larger predators often eat so much in one area, they don’t come back for a long time so targeting the offending individual is incredibly difficult.”
Changing control methods
According to Bodenchuk, lethal predator control has undergone a few major changes in the last half century.
“Fifty years ago, the Fish and Wildlife Service used large 1080 bait stations for population level reductions,” he explains. “However, this method and all other predicides were banned on Jan. 1, 1982. At this same time, the predecessor of the M44 was banned.”
Since the ban, Bodenchuk says other lethal technologies have been created including the M44 in the mid-1970s and livestock protection collars in the early 1980s.
“The M44 is a spring-loaded ejector which requires an upward pull to be activated. This upward pull is very typical of canines and almost non-existent for other predators. Therefore, it is a very selective tool toward the canine family,” explains Bodenchuk. “The M44 contains a one-gram capsule of sodium cyanide, which forms a gas preventing the cellular absorption of oxygen when mixed with saliva in the mouth.”
Additionally, Bodenchuk notes the current practice of aerial gunning was seldom used 50 years ago, but has beome more popular after receiving additional funding during the same year predicides were banned.
New research and development
While there has been a large amount of research and development of nonlethal predator tools, Bodenchuk says there isn’t a lot of new development in the lethal space.
“We see an opportunity existing to develop new toxicants for existing tools like the M44 or livestock protection collars,” he says, noting Austrailian producers have switched to a new chemical, which possesses an antidote and takes a longer amount of time to kill the animal. This makes it safer for non-target species.
“Research has also been done on making our existing tools more selective and humane,” he adds.
Bodenchuk notes, over the years, the National Wildlife Research Center has also conducted a number of studies on nonlethal predation management in regards to retractants, repellents, supplemental feeding and livestock guardian animals.
“We have also done a number of studies on predation management and wildlife protection. In fact, we’ve found removing coyotes to protect sheep also benefitted local mule deer, Bighorn sheep, pronghorn, nesting waterfowl, shorebirds and a number of endangered species,” he explains .
While lethal control has its benefits, Bodenchuk reminds individuals it is not a replacement for nonlethal control.
“It takes an integrated approach to provide effective protection for sheep herds,” he concludes.
Hannah Bugas is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.