How many more should we kill? – A wider view.
By Sharon St Joan
Caution: Some content may be disturbing.
The comment period for the draft Predator Damage Management in Utah 2018 ends today, Tuesday, June 12, 2018. This draft covers Wildlife Services’ 2018 plan for killing predators in order to prevent damage caused by wildlife.
To read it and send a comment, please go to
Here is the comment that I sent – please do not copy the wording, but you may make use of any of the thoughts and ideas, if you wish:
As an American and a Utah resident, I oppose the ongoing destruction of Utah’s wild lands and the wild animals that live there.
One does not need to be a scientist to understand that the killing by cyanide of coyote and cougar pups in their dens is wrong, cruel, and misguided, as are the many other inhumane ways of killing predators, such as gunning them down by helicopter, treeing cougars with dogs, bearbaiting, and trapping.
None of this is meant to disparage in any way the hard work of state and federal wildlife agents who do their best, often in confusing and difficult circumstances. It is, rather, a call to our society to wake up and notice that we are destroying the earth, and we must stop if either we or the earth are to survive.
The wild lands of Utah are among the most beautiful lands on earth, and they are being systematically reduced, diminished, and destroyed bit by bit.
A philosophy of exploitation
The underlying cause of this destruction of wild lands is a philosophy of exploitation. Predator killing targets and the industrial degradation of wild lands are not two separate issues; they go together.
We don’t want, one day, to look around us and see the spectacular beauty of Utah gone forever and for the lands around us to look like some of the most industrialized sectors of the rust belt of Ohio or Pennsylvania. Those polluted, toxic stretches were once also wild lands.
In a November 7, 2017 article in Forbes magazine, The most (and least) toxic places in America, Utah ranked third in the nation in terms of the amount of toxic pollution being released into the air each year. (Please see the link below.)
While pollution is not directly related to wildlife killing targets, it is relevant because it speaks volumes about the indifference with which our policies in Utah relate to the natural world – both wildlife and wild lands. As a state, we seem to be totally on board with the concept that the wilderness and wild animals were made for our benefit and should be used up as quickly and thoroughly as possible. In 2016, Utah released 273 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, behind only Alaska and Nevada.
While this may seem far afield from the issue at hand, it isn’t. The underlying question is not how many cougars, coyotes, or bears should we kill each year. Rather, the underlying question is how can we change our destructive approach to wildlife and wild lands. Until we see the relevance of that question, we will remain trapped in ignorance, and the unacknowledged devastation of the lands around us will continue.
Killing of predators
One crucial aspect of the pervasive damage to wildlife is the killing of predators, which skews biodiversity and undermines the natural order of ecosystems. When wolves were eliminated in the early twentieth century from the lower 48 states, this resulted in a lasting disturbance, which continues to this day, to the entire ecosystem. Studies in Yellowstone that document the return of the natural balance of nature when the wolves were re-introduced demonstrate this. After the wolves returned, they kept elk and deer herds on the move, which allowed the natural restoration of the river beds, and the riverine habitat – and for an abundance of young saplings, grasses, and other vegetation to grow up, and a return of fish, small mammals, and many bird species.
Depriving the natural world of the predators that would normally be present has far-reaching, negative consequences, such as the takeover by invasive species like cheat grass, which promote increasing wildfires and the disappearance of native species of birds, small mammals, and amphibians.
Protecting livestock from Depredation
Concerning the need for ranchers to protect their cattle and sheep, the killing of coyotes and cougars actually promotes the killing of livestock. This can be seen, not only from a number of studies that have been done, but also by reading maps produced by the DWR.
Last year, in 2017, I attended a RAC meeting in Beaver, Utah which focused partly on increasing the targeting of cougars, supposedly in order to decrease the incidents of depredation on livestock. In the sectors of the state which had been identified as areas where there had been increases in depredation, the hunting targets were being raised yet again because there was “still” a depredation problem.
These were generally areas where there had been depredation before, and after previously increasing the hunting targets, there was yet more depredation. In other words, the policy of killing more and more cougars was not working. On the contrary, more killing of cougars increased the levels of depredation, rather than decreasing them.
Killing more and more coyotes and cougars causes chaos in their social order. Many of the senior animals, who would normally guide and set an example for the younger ones, are killed. This leads directly to an increase in breeding, and to increased depredation on the part of adolescent animals who are no longer part of a stable social structure and who are now subject to engaging in aberrant behavior. Sheep and calves are not their natural prey. Depredation is the result of human interference.
Cougars and coyotes living in a natural state, where they are not being decimated, self-regulate their populations, just as all wild species tend to do in response to the conditions and the amount of food available.
Their populations do not need to be “controlled” by humans. This “control” does not work and is counter-productive. This is evident from the fact that we as humans have been killing predators (although they are not hunted for food) for the past four centuries in this country. This strategy has not worked in over four hundred years, and it is not going to work. We need to stop destroying individuals and species that are not hunted for food, because we are destroying the natural world in the process. Nature is weaker, more disturbed, and sicker than it has ever been before – due to many causes, among them our disastrous mismanagement of wild species.
(It is worth noting that Native Americans took what they needed from the natural world in a sustainable way, with respect, based on need, but not greed.) When our European forbears arrived on these shores, they encountered a vast, magnificent, thriving wilderness that stretched from shore to shore. Now it is gone, never to be brought back, leaving behind only the fragmented, mangled remnants of a once wild continent.)
Going back to stopping depredation of sheep and calves, there is a legal requirement that non-lethal means are to be employed first by Wildlife Services, and lethal means are to be deployed only as a last resort. This requirement appears to be being ignored.
There are many non-lethal means, of proven efficacy, yet they are rarely tried.
Ranchers, in any case, already have the lawful ability to kill an animal that is preying on their livestock, and they are also compensated for the loss of their domestic animals, so there is no need to employ Wildlife Services at taxpayer expense to kill hundreds and thousands of completely unrelated wild animals who have not engaged at all in any depredation of livestock.
Widespread, indiscriminate killing of predators not only does not prevent depredation to sheep and cattle – this misguided policy increases and leads to depredation. It is counterproductive, as well as being violent and cruel. (For more on this, please see the link below.)
We need to change
Our basic, mistaken perception of wildlife is at fault. There is no need for, and no gain to be had by, relating to the native wild animals who live in the lands around us as being worthless, of no account, of viewing them as inanimate objects to be disposed of as we wish, and seeing their lives and family structures as having no purpose or value, of not recognizing or acknowledging either the joy they feel in their lives, or their suffering, often brought about by human hands, or their God-given grace, beauty, dignity, and innocence.
It is time to return to a wiser, kinder approach to wildlife and wild lands, honoring them as our fellow beings on this earth, to be respected and admired as the innocent, living, sentient beings that they are.
As has often been said, “We belong to the earth; the earth does not belong to us.” It is only through a complete turn-around in our view of our place on earth and an awareness of the intrinsic beauty and worth of the wild that we may learn to live in harmony with our fellow beings on this planet, in a way that is no longer inhumane and death-dealing, but kind and life-giving.
Utah ranks number three in toxic air pollution:
Link to Yellowstone Ecological Research Center, Crabtree’s Letter on Coyotes, about the effect of killing coyotes on predation rates: