Amid outcry from Wildlife Services and ranchers, Doña Ana County Commission considers reversing policy against using county funds to kill predators and rodents.
This April, the Doña Ana County Commission passed a resolution 4:1 that ensures county funds can no longer be spent on lethal predator and rodent control. Already, the resolution is under attack from powerful interests.
Under state law, counties can use “Farm and Range Improvement Funds” for any of the following six purposes: soil and water conservation, road construction and maintenance, control of noxious weeds, dipping vats, and the control of rodents and predatory animals.
For years, the County has exclusively used up to $17,000 of these funds--matched with an equal amount of general county funds--to pay a federal agency called Wildlife Services annually for predator and rodent “control” using almost entirely lethal methods.
We don’t know how many animals Wildlife Services kills with this money, or how many county residents actually use its assistance, because Wildlife Services is not required to include this information in its annual reports. We do know (from a recent presentation to the County Commission) that the agency has spent approximately $36,000 of taxpayer dollars since July 1, 2018 to kill 51 coyotes, 281 skunks and 16 rock squirrels in the county.
Wildlife Services and its allies are pushing to repeal the resolution, and the bad news is: our county commissioners are going along with it.
A resolution to repeal the April resolution is on the agenda for the June 25, 2019 County Commission meeting. While it does impose some modest reporting requirements on Wildlife Services (that's a step in the right direction for any agency that has operated without accountability for years), it does not justify repealing the April resolution, for the following reasons:
1. There is no prohibition on the extremely expensive and cost-ineffective method of aerial gunning.
The resolution states that Wildlife Services does not engage in this activity in Dona Ana County, but the agency's 2017 report on its activities in the county included aerial gunning.
2. There is no prohibition on the use of cruel and indiscriminate snares and leghold traps.
Although the resolution states that the use of leghold traps is "humane" (snares are not mentioned), common sense and direct observation of animals caught in traps will tell you otherwise. These methods are indiscriminate, often cause physical injury to the animal's feet and legs to the point where the damage is permanent, and always cause extreme stress to the captured animal. As indiscriminate as these methods are, they function like land mines, rendering public lands on which they are deployed unusable or dangerous to recreational users.
3. There is no mention of the use of M44 "coyote getters" or other poisons.
These are also indiscriminate, deadly to any passing animal that is attracted to the bait and pulls the trigger, receiving a spray of sodium cyanide leading to an agonizing death. They are particularly attractive to canids, including coyotes, foxes and domestic dogs. Like traps and snares,they function as land mines, rendering public lands where they are deployed dangerous and off-limits to other users. Similarly, the use of poisons to control rodents is also indiscriminate and results in a cruel, painful death to animals that ingest them, and potentially cause secondary poisoning to animals such as raptors, cats, etc. that eat any dead or sick poisoned animal they encounter.
4. The reporting requirements in the new resolution do not include certain metrics that are necessary for the public to evaluate the cost-benefits of the contract with Wildlife Services, including:
- The name and number (quantity) of individuals requesting service calls, including repeat requests. This is the only way to know how many county residents are actually availing themselves of WS' services, and if the underlying problems are being dealt with or individuals are choosing to simply rely on taxpayer funded services to avoid dealing with a recurring problem.
- The number and type of animals (target and nontarget) captured, by method, and how those animals were disposed of, by method (i.e. euthanasia by carbon dioxide, released, relocated, shot, etc.). This is essential, basic information that the public deserves and needs to know to make an informed judgement about the merits of this program.
5. The resolution states that Wildlife Services is the only entity providing technical assistance and education to the public about how to deal with "problem" wildlife. This is not true.
There are other entities--individuals and maybe businesses-- that do not receive tax dollars for providing this service.
6. Wildlife Services' outreach efforts are focused almost entirely on reacting to individual calls, and little or no effort is devoted to proactive and preventative public education.
This is an ineffective way to prevent problems. Where are the brochures, the public service announcements, the speaker engangements? These type of proactive outreach methods should be required by the county in any new contract.
Lastly, we have reached this point because Wildlife Services has operated without accountability or transparency for years in Dona Ana County, as it does in other parts of the country. This is a moment of reckoning. Wildlife Services must be willing to accept requirements described above in the contract that reflect the public's values towards our wildlife and expectations for the responsible use of their tax dollars, or be denied a contract that basically continues the status quo.
Wildlife advocates need to speak up.
We need to show our county commissioners that the our public values towards wildlife are changing, animal encounters do not always have to end in violence, and coexistence is possible if we could give it a chance.
5 MINUTE ACTION:
Call your county commissioner today and let them know that you support April’s resolution to stop using county funds to kill wildlife.
Request that if the county decides to renew their contract with Wildlife Services, that they include the following stipulations:
- No aerial gunning.
- No leghold traps
- No poisons, including M-44 cyanide capsules
- Strong language prioritizing non-lethal methods (such as exclusion)
- More stringent reporting requirements
- More proactive public outreach methods about how to avoid conflicts with wildlife.
See links below for contact information:
Lynn Ellins, D1
Isabella Solis, D4 - sole “no” vote on April’s resolution
TAKE STRONG ACTION:
Show up to the county commission meeting and make a comment publicly. We need to outnumber our opposition. Details:
Tuesday, June 25, 2019 at 9:00 AM
Doña Ana County Commission Chambers - 1st Floor
845 North Motel Boulevard, Las Cruces, NM
(Note: The resolution is #13 on the agenda, so will likely not be heard right at 9:00am. Livestream the meeting here and consider heading to the meeting around item #11.)
Ranchers on federal public lands pay grazing fees to the federal government. A portion of those Taylor Grazing Act fees come back to the states and are distributed under state law to individual counties as “Farm and Range Improvement Funds.” Under state law, counties can use those funds for any of the following six purposes, which include soil and water conservation, control of noxious weeds, secondary road construction and maintenance, dipping vats, and the control of rodents and predatory animals.
Like many counties around the nation, Doña Ana County has historically used those funds to enter into annual contracts with Wildlife Services, a federal agency under the Department of Agriculture which uses lethal methods to kill coyotes and other wildlife.
Wildlife Services has come under fire for its use of M-44 cyanide capsules, which attract canines and explode in their mouth when tugged. These capsules have killed pet dogs and non-target species all over the country. In 2017, a 14-year-old boy in Idaho was walking his dog when the dog activated an M-44 cyanide capsule. It killed the dog and knocked over the boy.
The resolution passed in April limits the purposes the Farm and Range Improvement Funds can be used to: soil and water conservation, noxious weed control, secondary road construction and maintenance, and control of predators and rodents using “exclusively non-lethal measures.”
The best available science indicates that indiscriminately killing coyotes disrupts pack social structures, which can lead to increased depredation and compensatory breeding.