Ranchers say funding need to support Wildlife Services

By SEAN ELLIS

Capital Press

SUN VALLEY, Idaho -- The Idaho Cattle Association will form a task force to seek alternative sources of funding to pay for predator control in Idaho.

The committee, which will consist of several segments of the industry, including sheep and cattle producers, dairymen and feedlot owners, will try to find solutions that are fair to everybody, ICA Vice President Jared Brackett said.

The task force is being formed because of a substantial loss of federal funding by the Idaho Wildlife Services program, a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency that manages wildlife damage. Wildlife Services saw $247,000 of its $1.7 million in federal funding dry up last year.

"We were told those funds will not be restored," said George Graves, Idaho Wildlife Services assistant state director.

The agency receives about $700,000 in cooperative funds annually from several different Idaho entities, including sheep and cattle groups, counties, and the state.

The state's cattle and sheep industries are leading the effort to try to make up for the reduction in federal funding.

About 32 percent of Idaho Wildlife Services' funds are used to manage wolf damage, which affects both industries, and 50 percent is used to minimize damage by coyotes, which have a large impact on sheep producers.

According to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, predation is the largest cause of sheep mortality in Idaho and predators kill about 6,700 sheep and lambs in the state each year. Coyotes are responsible for about 60 percent of those losses.

NASS estimates predation losses in Idaho average about 3.6 percent for lambs and 1.4 percent for adult sheep but would average about 17 percent and 4.5 percent without a predator control program.

"The work done by Wildlife Services is vitally important to our industry and others as well," said Ken Wixom, who raises sheep and cattle near Blackfoot. "I'm sure all of us would be open to other ideas (to generate more funding)."

Brackett said the task force hopes to have something in place to present to the Idaho Legislature when it convenes in January.

Because of increased cattle losses due to wolf attacks, "money for predator control is a necessity and we need every bit of it and more," said ICA Executive Vice President Wyatt Prescott.

While 72 percent of Wildlife Service's budget is federally funded and the rest comes from cooperative funds, USDA would prefer the cost share ratio be at least 50-50, said Graves, who added the possibility exists that federal appropriations could be reduced further until that ratio is met.

"We're encouraged the livestock industry is trying to come up with solutions to address the predator damage management funding shortfall," he said. "If successful, their efforts will benefit Idaho's livestock and agricultural industries...."

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