Thanks to Randy Comeleo, Program Advisor for the Agriculture and Wildlife Protection Program, Benton County, Oregon, for helping with this article.
Last week’s article, “Coyotes Can Protect Your Livestock From Predators” reviewed some the research showing that we may be better off not killing predators. In fact, researchers found that the more predators we remove, the more livestock are killed. Based on this, they believe that properly implemented non-lethal predator control could considerably reduce the need for lethal control.
It was this scientific information, along with actual numbers comparing the cost of killing and trapping with the losses producers suffered, that led local farming and wildlife conservation leaders in Benton County, Oregon, to develop a non-lethal deterrents grant program as an alternative to the county trapping program.
USDA and county reports showed that, from 2004 to 2014, the county lethal control program had cost county residents $174,590, while residents sustained $166,406 in agricultural and property losses. During this ten year period, livestock killed by wildlife included 456 sheep, 393 fowl, and 43 goats. In response, USDA government trappers killed 738 mammals, including 456 coyotes, 50 raccoons, and 46 bobcats using neck snares, steel-jawed leghold, and body-gripping traps.
At workshops and farm visits during development of the grant program proposal, farmers said they were (1) weary of reacting to livestock losses after they had already occurred, (2) found lethal methods did not work or provide long-term protection, (3) were uncomfortable killing native wildlife in an attempt to protect their livestock, and (4) received no support for using proactive non-lethal methods from the county lethal control program. One of the most common reasons cited by farmers for wanting to use non-lethal deterrents was that they believed wildlife played an important ecological role in the health of their farm ecosystem.
In June 2017, the Benton County Budget Committee approved a two-year pilot program to encourage the proactive use of non-lethal animal damage deterrents in an effort to foster the coexistence of agriculture and wildlife. Benton County farmers and ranchers could apply for cost-share reimbursement for implementing non-lethal predator control through the Agriculture and Wildlife Protection Program (AWPP). Education and consultation services are provided by Oregon State University Extension Service, Chintimini Wildlife Center, and program advisors with expertise in ranching with wildlife, predator ecology, and human-carnivore conflict.
How Did the Pilot Program Go?
The results of the two-year pilot program were quite positive as described in excerpts from the 2017-2019 AWPP Summary Report. Grant recipients were required to maintain detailed records of their non-lethal deterrents project operations and submit an annual report evaluating the effectiveness of the non-lethal methods and tools used. The AWPP Summary Report is based on these project reports:
Grant recipients proposed to protect a variety of livestock and crops. Sheep and goats were the most common livestock proposed for protection. Expected wildlife conflict species included carnivores, herbivores, domestic dogs, birds of prey, wildfowl, and songbirds. Cougars and coyotes were the most common wildlife conflict species identified by grant recipients.
Most of the farms had used non-selective lethal animal damage control methods (traps, snares, calling-and-shooting, or poisons) in previous years.
After approximately one year, all farms that participated in the grant program experienced little or no crop or livestock losses using non-lethal deterrents, even though record keeping forms indicated that cougars, coyotes, and other conflict species were often present during the reporting period. The farms that had previously used lethal animal damage control and had experienced crop and livestock losses in previous years experienced no losses when using only non-lethal deterrents.
Grant participants used a wide variety of non-lethal wildlife deterrents including livestock guardian animals, electrified fencing, electronic scare devices, and protective housing to protect their crops and livestock. All grant participants reported they were satisfied with the non-lethal methods and tools they selected and said they would apply again for a wildlife deterrents grant and would recommend the grant program to other farmers.
One particularly comprehensive non-lethal deterrents plan was installed at a 102-acre organic hazelnut farm in the Oregon Coast Range mountains. This plan provides a good example of combining the use of different non-lethal methods and tools at the same time and varying the use of different methods and tools over time. In 2017, this farm lost its entire hazelnut crop to Steller’s Jays and also had two goats killed by a cougar. In response to these losses, the farmer had the USDA Wildlife Services “county trapper” shoot 50 Steller’s Jays and trap and kill a cougar.
In spring 2018, the hazelnut farmer received $5,000 from the AWPP grant program to purchase non-lethal deterrents. His plan included the use of two Bird Gard Electronic Bird scare devices to protect his hazelnut crop from Steller’s Jays. The metal 4-speaker enclosures for each unit were mounted on 8-foot poles and broadcast eight random bird distress/alarm calls and hawk calls from daybreak until dark. The units were powered by marine batteries which lasted the entire fall. The units were waterproof and worked very well.
The farmer also used BioLink, a garlic-based bird deterrent spray he sprayed using his tractor sprayer on the hazelnut trees three times during the fall. The BioLink was sufficiently watery and did not clog his spray units. The BioLink had a nasty smell in the bottle but had no noticeable odor in the field.
The farmer also hung holographic mylar bird scare tape in the hazelnut trees.
Flail mowing and grazing by goats and sheep was used to keep vegetation in the organic hazelnut orchard low enough to use machines to pick up nuts. Three livestock guardian dogs were used to protect electric-fenced goats and sheep wherever they were located in the orchard.
In 2018, with non-lethal deterrents in place, there were no livestock losses, the farm had its best hazelnut harvest, and no wildlife was killed.
These results are consistent with what other farmers and ranchers have reported about their own non-lethal programs. In Benton County, the early success of the non-lethal deterrents grant program led the Budget Committee to approve $45,000 to continue the program in the 2019-2021 biennium.
What Non-Lethal Methods Work Best?
The Predator Hub of UC Rangelands at the University of California, Davis has collected a lot of information we can use to determine what will work best for our individual operations. This table gives you a feel for what they cover:
We summarized their findings in this June 2018 On Pasture article.