Case Overview, Eliminating Budgetary Support for USDA's Predator Control

This document provides background information and summarizes the debate over eliminating budgetary support for the USDA's predator control. The links to the left will lead you to public documents that we have found.

           From the time Americans first began to ranch, there have been problems with predators from the wild attacking and killing livestock, especially sheep and cows. Despite all our modern sophistication, the problem endures. Coyotes and wolves in particular present a threat to livestock, and in some areas mountain lions, bears, bobcats, and foxes are also a problem. If even a small part of a herd is destroyed by predators, those casualties can represent the difference between profit and loss for a rancher. In response to these problems Congress enacted the Animal Damage Control Act in 1931 and the program continues today.
           While ranchers may regard the elimination of predators a necessary business practice, there are those who believe such procedures are barbaric and represent the worst instincts of mankind. Those concerned with the humane treatment of animals are angry that federal tax dollars are spent by the Department of Agriculture to kill wildlife deemed to be a pest. They're incensed at what they see as cruelty in some of the means of predator control. One lobbyist working for humane treatment of animals described some of these practices:

[The government] also set up steel traps, which [are] a metal device with two steel jaws, and an animal steps into the trap and presumably it catches the leg and the animal is held there, sometimes 12, 24, or 48 hours, and they are caught there trying to escape the trap, sometimes twisting off or even chewing their leg to escape the grip. They also set up poisons mainly to target coyotes, but can poison any animal that happens to come across this spring-activated ejector device which delivers the poison.

           The other side of the issue attracts equally strong feelings. A coalition of agriculture and hunting groups emphatically supports government programs designed to minimize predator populations near ranching properties. A lobbyist for a hunters' organization said of the arguments made by animal rights proponents: "These are rantings by whackos." Criticizing the legislation proposed by the animal groups, she said, "This is part of a bigger picture involving the animal rights agenda: anti-hunting, anti-fishing, anti-pet ownership."
           In the 106th Congress animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the United States, the American Humane Association, and the Animal League, worked with congressional allies in an effort to reduce the Department of Agriculture appropriation for predator control. They chose the appropriations process because they had much less chance of passing a statute encompassing their goals. An appropriation for the Department of Agriculture has to pass, otherwise it must shut down. By reducing the appropriation for predator control, they could effectively limit the program.
           As in the past, however, those pushing to restrict the predator control appropriation lost, this time by a vote of 228-170. The animal rights groups pledged to continue the fight but they were no more successful in the next Congress.