Wildlife Services Issues Annual Report on Wildlife Damage Management Activities
On March 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) wildlife damage management program, Wildlife Services (WS), posted its annual Program Data Reports (PDR) for fiscal year (FY) 2020. The reports are available on the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) webpage, representing the 25th year that WS has shared this information about its wildlife damage management activities.
APHIS Wildlife Services’ activities seek to reduce or eliminate more than an estimated $232 million in livestock loss due to predation and $150 million in bird damage to crops caused by native and invasive wildlife annually. Comprehensive estimates of all types of wildlife damage are difficult to gauge but each year wildlife strikes cause $625 million in loss to American civil aviation also posing a potential loss of life. APHIS responds to requests for assistance from individuals, companies and other government agencies when wildlife causes or threatens damage to human health/safety, agriculture, natural resources and property.
In FY20, APHIS encountered about 22.5 million animals while responding to calls for assistance and dispersed nearly 21 million wildlife from urban, rural and other settings where they were causing damage. APHIS dispersed almost 93 percent of the animals encountered. Not all conflicts can be resolved with nonlethal methods alone. Of all wildlife encountered, WS lethally removed 6.7 percent or 1.5 million, in targeted areas to reduce damage. Invasive species accounted for 71% (1,075,704) and native species 29% (433,192).
Of the wildlife lethally removed:
74 percent were either an invasive species or a native blackbird listed on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Depredation Order due to the damage they cause.
The invasive species removed included more than 15,000 brown tree snakes on Guam, 113,331 feral swine and 790,000 European starlings.
Of native wildlife lethally removed, 62,700 were coyotes. Coyotes reportedly kill more than 300,000 head of livestock annually and injure even more.
57,000 were native Northern pike minnow that APHIS removed to protect federally threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest.
Where we use lethal control, APHIS works to make full use of the resource which includes the donation of 129 tons of goose, deer/elk, and other meat—nearly 1 million servings of protein—for people in need.
In FY 2020, APHIS used $83.9 million in appropriated funds to help manage wildlife damage operations in every state and territory and to support special programs, such as managing feral swine damage and rabies in raccoons and other wildlife. APHIS also received funding from program cooperators, including Federal and state agencies, counties, agricultural producer groups, other organizations, businesses, and individuals. This allows the program to maximize its scope and effectiveness. During FY 2020, WS received $101.6 million in cooperator-provided funding (55 percent) for field-based operational wildlife damage management (see PDR A for funding sources and expenditures nationally and by state).
APHIS used almost half (43 percent) of WS’ operational funding for field activities to reduce or prevent wildlife hazards to human health and safety, such as wildlife collisions with aircraft and disease transmission. APHIS spent about one-quarter (28 percent) of its funding to protect agriculture, including livestock, row crops, aquaculture, and timber. APHIS spent the remaining 28% on protection of property and natural resources, including threatened and endangered species.
The PDRs list the work carried out by APHIS wildlife biologists and field specialists, with information by state, species, and other details. Some key FY2020 highlights include the following:
APHIS and its cooperators protected more than 300 threatened or endangered wildlife and plant species from the impacts of disease, invasive species, and predators. Partners seeking assistance, including private organizations and federal, state and local wildlife agencies, financially support most of these operations. (PDR B).
PDR C identifies the specific resources protected and the wildlife species that threaten or damage the resources in operations where a stakeholder, cooperator, or WS has reported a value of the damage. It identifies the number and species of recorded threats or damage to the reported damage value. About three-quarters of the recorded wildlife conflicts were associated with wildlife damage to property and agricultural resources.
In Fiscal year 2020, APHIS reached more than 205,000 participants in more than 79,000 information-sharing projects. These technical assistance projects, including telephone or onsite consultations, written materials, and training, help individuals resolve wildlife conflicts they are experiencing. PDR D details technical assistance projects by state, type of service, and wildlife species.
PDR E highlights APHIS’ work to reduce aviation strikes with wildlife at 765 airports . The airports and agencies requesting assistance from WS’ Airport Wildlife Hazard Program paid for this work under cooperative service agreements.
APHIS wildlife disease biologists collected almost 40,000 wildlife disease samples to test for 39 different diseases and conditions in wild mammals, birds and reptiles as part of the National Wildlife Disease Program. PDR F details the activity. About 40% (15,609) of the samples were collected for the National Rabies Management Program. APHIS took samples from feral swine for 16 diseases or conditions, genetics or other research. Most sampling in feral swine was for classical swine fever, pseudorabies, swine brucellosis, genetics, and non-specific diseases.
PDR G lists the number of animals dispersed, killed/euthanized, or freed during APHIS’ wildlife damage management operations. APHIS implements an integrated damage management approach which uses a variety of effective and practical nonlethal and lethal methods to resolve wildlife damage problems. As noted above, APHIS removed 1.5 million animals in FY20, including 1.07 million invasive wildlife and 433,192 native wildlife. In FY19, APHIS removed 2.2 million animals, of which 1.3 million were native wildlife.
Invasive European starlings or native blackbirds, removed under a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Depredation Order, comprise 56 percent of animals APHIS lethally removed in FY20, totaling 844,732 birds. These birds damage food crops, such as rice and other grains, livestock, property, and other commodities. They also can pose a human health and safety concern. APHIS used nonlethal methods to disperse an additional 10 million starlings and blackbirds from areas where they were causing damage. In FY19, these invasive birds and native blackbirds accounted for 85% of total lethal removal, or 1.58 million birds.
More than 99.9 percent of the animals lethally removed were the intended targets of APHIS’ wildlife damage management actions. However, APHIS did unintentionally remove 2,693 native animals. We track and report unintended removal and make adjustments to field operations, wherever possible. WS Directives require capture devices that minimize capture and injury to unintended species. These include pan-tension devices on certain traps and leg snares and use of smooth, offset jaws or padded jaws on foothold traps.
Invasive species accounted for 71 percent of all lethally removed wildlife in FY20, including an almost 35 percent increase over FY 2019 in the number of invasive feral swine removed as part of the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program..
Coyotes reportedly kill more than 310,000 head of cattle/calves, sheep/lambs, and goats/kids annually according to livestock producers’ reports to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. In FY20, WS removed 62,702 coyotes through wildlife damage management operations to protect resources. By comparison, trappers and hunters in 37 states took approximately 500,000 coyotes in 2017-18 in state-regulated fur harvests.
Native species not listed in the USFWS Blackbird Depredation Order accounted for 26% (386,102) of all animals WS lethally removed (and 88% of lethally removed native wildlife). Lethal actions for damage management remove a small percentage of native wildlife compared to their overall populations or range. For example, out of an estimated 300,000 black bears, last year APHIS euthanized 449 and relocated 770 black bears, in compliance with wildlife agencies’ policies in 22 states. APHIS removed less than one-half of one percent of the national estimated red-winged blackbird and brown-headed cowbird breeding populations of 150 million and 120 million, respectively.
PDR G also notes that APHIS treated 17,282 acres using EPA-registered products to resolve damage. APHIS used zinc phosphide wheat or oats for control of various rodents (8,550 acres). Delta Dust insecticide reduced plague-vector fleas in prairie dog tunnels for the protection of the endangered black-footed ferrets (8,732 acres). More than 54,000 dens and burrows were removed -- primarily prairie dog burrows in 5 states, along with ground squirrels and woodchuck -- to protect agricultural crops, including fruits and nuts (ground squirrels and prairie dogs); human health/safety (ground squirrels); property and human health/safety (woodchucks); and livestock and grazing (prairie dogs).
Most species whose damage APHIS actively manages, are abundant, or have increasing populations and/or expanding ranges. WS’ balances its focused efforts to resolve wildlife conflicts with the program’s stewardship responsibilities toward the long-term maintenance and health of wildlife populations.
As a federal agency with public trust responsibilities to manage wildlife for present and future generations, APHIS complies with all Federal and state laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and Endangered Species Act, as well as executive orders pertaining to invasive species management. APHIS conducts careful environmental review of all agency actions through a NEPA process that includes public involvement. To learn more, please visit the WS website.