Who Do These Animals Think They Are?
According to a 1/11/02 Associated Press story ("Animal Threats to Humans Studied"), "For all of America's vigilance against terrorists, danger does not always come on two legs. The threat posed by beavers, woodchucks, deer, blackbirds and other seemingly benign critters has come under federal investigation."
A study ordered by Congress lists some of the depredations we suffer from wildlife interlopers on our territory:
27,000 injuries a year from rodents.
$1 billion in damage a year from cars hitting deer. ("How dare you dent my fender with your dead body!")
15 deaths a year from snake bites.
6,000 collisions between birds and airplanes in 2000.
$70 million in annual livestock losses from predators, mainly coyotes.
Odd incidents of planes being damaged by wingless creatures, including turtles, alligators, foxes and woodchucks that apparently lumbered or skittered onto rural airstrips.
The General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, studied problems caused by wildlife and the effectiveness of federal actions to protect people, their property and businesses from them. It was asked to do so by members of Congress involved in approving the budget of the Agriculture Department, which kills some predators and tries to shoo others away.
The study found that nonlethal means of scaring off wildlife show promise, but many animals learn to thwart the best-laid plans. For example, lamb carcasses were laced with a chemical to make coyotes throw up, in the hope they would steer clear of lambs. The wily coyotes stopped eating them. But they kept killing them.
Llamas and lasers may be more promising. Ranchers have discovered that llamas bond with sheep. They will chase coyotes, gather sheep and stand between the two with little or no training. "Guard llamas'' also stay on the job longer than guard dogs.
Predators and pesky birds often adapt to loud noise and flashing lights, while rattled people in the area don't.
But the study says harmless lasers have effectively scattered birds that interfered with the search for evidence in World Trade Center debris at a landfill.
Researchers gave a nod to the large if unspecified economic benefits of wildlife, but (guess what?) it proved easier to quantify losses.
Among them: a $3.5 million annual bite out of Arkansas' rice crop from blackbirds, millions of dollars in damage through the Southeast and Midwest from beavers, federal aid for 300 New Jersey residents bedeviled by Canada geese and threats to endangered California species from ubiquitous species like raptors and skunks.
The report wades into a debate between ranchers who suffer expensive losses from predators and groups that say the government is too quick to kill animals that can be controlled in other ways.
It did not settle that debate.
Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, said the report merely reflected the rationale for using lethal force and underestimated the value of less drastic remedies. He described the prevailing animal-control ethic as: "If there's a problem, let's call out the Army and get a body count."
The study found that the federal "wildlife services'' program, which previously went by the more pointed name Animal Damage Control, spends most of its research budget on ways to keep unwanted animals away without killing them. "Many nonlethal controls work well, but only in certain situations or locations, and some work only temporarily,'' it says.
Relocation poses a variety of problems, the authors note. Once moved, bears will immediately come back if they can. And moving a bear is a bother. "Not only is a bear large and heavy, it is also double-jointed and thus quite floppy.''
Examples of "Injurious Wildlife'' by state:
Alabama: Birds are costing the catfish industry $4 million a year.
Arizona: Blackbirds risk contaminating cattle feed and water.
Colorado: Coyotes are killing $1.5 million worth of sheep and lambs a year, a problem throughout the West.
Connecticut: Birds, bats and squirrels are damaging buildings, landscapes and utilities.
Delaware: Canada geese have done $75,000 damage to golf courses.
Georgia: A beaver problem common through the Southeast and Midwest is damaging pastures, highways and sanitation lines.
Hawaii: Tree frogs are threatening horticulture, parrots and Axis deer.
Illinois: European starlings may spread disease and have damaged private and industrial property.
Maine: Exploding cormorant population is harming the pen-raised salmon industry and is thought to be the main cause of the decline of the wild Atlantic salmon population.
Michigan: Endangered gray wolves threaten livestock.
Missouri: The Canada goose population has quadrupled since 1993, and the wild hog population is on the rise.
Nebraska: Prairie dogs are damaging range land.
Nevada: Rodents pose a risk of a wild form of bubonic plague.
New Jersey: Deer are feasting on fruit trees and vegetables.
New York: Bat and raccoon rabies are a concern and urban winter crow roosts are plaguing city-dwellers with droppings, odor and worries about disease.
Ohio: Growing populations of gulls, vultures and starlings. In a test, a laser dispersed 18,000 geese from a lake in 15 minutes.
Rhode Island: Mute swans are fouling ponds.
Texas: Feral hog population has topped 1 million, increasing damage to crops, livestock and wildlife.
Washington state: Gulls and northern pikeminnows, a fish native to the Columbia River system, are threatening endangered salmon and steelhead.
Wyoming: More than $5 million in livestock losses from predators including coyotes, black bears, red foxes, mountain lions.
You have to wonder who put all these worse-than-useless creatures here in the first place.
To see the report go to Government. Click on heading "Find GAO Reports," then search by number for study GAO-02-138.
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