Guest Opinion: Coyotes still winning the fight | TSLN.com

Guest Opinion: Coyotes still winning the fight

As livestock and wildlife losses increase and predator populations also increase the ADC is forced to make some changes to prevent greater problems. Photo by LuRay Parker, Wyoming Game & Fish Department

A very controversial issue involving the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks (GF&P) administration of the Animal Damage Control (ADC) program is still not resolved, despite efforts by livestock groups, including South Dakota Stockgrowers and South Dakota Sheepgrowers. When the ADC programs were cut several years ago, Region 1 (western third of South Dakota) went from having seven trapper districts to four trapper districts.

The ADC trappers were overwhelmed with the workload and could not respond to calls for help from many livestock producers.

There have been some improvements as there are once again seven trapper districts in the region. The ADC trappers, however, still cannot get to all of the damage calls, and are limited to 40 hours per week to do their work. They all work unpaid overtime and are spread entirely too thin to be able to do the job they want to.

The funding issue has been brought up by the GF&P repeatedly, though they are the ones who turned down offered funding from the feds via Senator Tim Johnson's office. Who is responsible for that decision isn't entirely clear, but it absolutely gutted the ADC programs at the time and many trappers were let go as the funds weren't there to pay them with.

The South Dakota Stockgrowers lobbied the state legislature for a $1 per hunting license fee increase to be used for the ADC programs, which resulted in $300,000 being put into the account in March (to be paid back when the license fee increase took effect in July). At that time, the funding was in place for more extensive ADC actions and trappers were added and the Wildlife Services plane was once again in the air in several areas.

The GF&P has always been more focused on wildlife than predators. That may soon be changing as the predators are taking a major toll on wildlife, from deer to pheasants, and if the wildlife isn't there, hunters don't come to the state and spend money on licenses and hunts.

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Livestock producers, both sheep and cattle, are seeing an increased number of coyotes throughout the state, with numbers of livestock losses increasing. GF&P say livestock losses, financially, are due to increased value of livestock, but that logic holds no water when sheep are being lost. Also, actual numbers reported by producers don't match what the GF&P claim have been reported. The actual number of livestock lost has risen as predator control programs were decreased.

Several other factors have also played into the favor of the predators, primarily coyotes. One of those is that the mange has about run its course in South Dakota and coyotes are reproducing and surviving at greater numbers than before. That doesn't hold as much water to former ADC trapper, Scott Huber, who claims, "I know for a fact that livestock losses due to predators in this state are at all-time highs due primarily to the decrease in ADC services and in GF&P duty prioritization. They eliminated coyote preventative measures in favor of working on killing complaints. This lead to an increase in coyote numbers, even with mange considered."

Huber also questions just why those livestock predation reports from producers and National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) statistics contrast so greatly with GF&P's livestock loss reports. The reports are pretty hard to come by from the GF&P, according to Huber, but if enough producers request those reports and start asking questions, Huber believes that an investigation might be forthcoming and could actually lead to some improvement in the system.

The ADC Policy Advisory Board meeting that took place on Aug. 5, was the first meeting in several years and saw some changes in how the board was assembled. Previously, only GF&P employees were on the board, which left out anyone else who was actually involved in the industry or associations thereof. Now there are seven representatives on the board besides the GF&P, S.D. Dept. of Ag, and the administrator of ADC programs. Those members are from U.S. Dept. of Wildlife Services, S.D. Sheepgrowers, S.D. Cattlemens Association, S.D. Stockgrowers Association, S.D. Farmers Union, S.D. Farm Bureau and S.D. Wildlife Federation.

Having a board with representatives from these varying organizations should have a positive impact on the ADC program and the decisions being made by the GF&P. With input from actual producers and facts brought forward by the producers in those organizations, informed decisions can finally be made as to the programs.

Max Matthews, Bison, S.D., rancher and president of the S.D. Sheepgrowers was at the Aug. 5 meeting and says there were some good ideas brought forth at the meeting. Some of the ideas for improving predator control include: training landowners on how to use the M44 devices, availability of more pilots and planes to hunt coyotes, more on-the-ground supervision in the field by administration in Pierre and Rapid City to increase knowledge of why it's so difficult to control coyote numbers, eliminate some of the paperwork required of the ADC trappers, allow more overtime, and implementing bait stations and other such tactics.

The ADC trappers are only allowed to work 40 paid hours per week and several of those hours are spent just filling out paperwork, limiting their hours in the field.

The lack of understanding by the people in charge of the program of the actual work – "windshield time" – the ADC trappers do will hopefully be improved if the supervisors go into the field with the trappers to watch them do their work. Only then can they really grasp the need for more hours in the field and the need for more trappers.

Matthews says, "We're on a wait-and-see basis right now. We'll see if the added trappers and hours will make a difference. We know it won't fix the problem but it may help." He also encouraged producers to call the GF&P with their concerns and ideas, not the ADC trapper in their district. "Those guys catch all the heat from the producers, but they can only 'put out fires' in the field. They can't change the policy.

"Every trapper we know is doing everything they can and they feel like they're not doing enough," said Matthews.

No matter who you talk to, every question involving the ADC program circles back to the lack of funding. Even though there has been an increase, it's just not enough to control the exploding coyote population.

More ADC personnel on the ground is desperately needed to get caught up on the "kill" complaints and to get the coyote population under control. This will take a lot of money and man hours of hunting them and taking preventive measures.

In the mean time, the battle between funding and actual predator control continues with coyote numbers increasing every season.