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Does the War Between Ranchers and Native Predators Need to Go On?

Wild Things makes a case against a federal agency that kills thousands of carnivores every year

Wild Things, an award-winning film produced by the Natural Resources Defense Council, explores the age-old battle between ranchers and wild predators and questions whether this battle really need go on. The film is basically a polemic against the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program that kills tens of thousands of native carnivores, including coyotes and wolves, by brutal means such as poisoning, aerial gunning, and trapping.

Wild Things movie posterThe NRDC documentary advocates humane predator control methods.

The program is given millions of taxpayer dollars each year to kill animals at the request of ranchers and state wildlife management agencies.  The film shows how the actions taken to eradicate these wild predators are not cost-effective and certainly not humane.

According to the Humane Society: “During the last five years (FY2009-FY 2013), Wildlife Services has spent nearly $300 million killing the public’s wildlife on behalf of private interests.  However, Wildlife Services data show that only a small percentage of cattle or sheep die from predators.  For instance, of the 93.9 million cattle in the US in 2010, less that 1 percent were killed by predators.”

Besides, killing predators may not always help control their population. As a recent report in All Animals magazine points out, Wildlife Services kills approximately 80,000 coyotes each year, but that their ruthless actions do not decimate the coyote population as much as one may think. That’s because of the way these animals reproduce. In a stable pack, only the alpha pair reproduces and its litters are small, subsequently the pack itself is small. But as soon as the pack is disrupted by lethal control, the survivors, not only the alpha pair as before, will start to reproduce. Which means the pack size increases and consequently so does the predation on ranchers’ livestock.

Using the evidence of science to back its claim, Wild Things makes the point that the brutality used to capture and kill these animals is unnecessary. While it's true that wild carnivores can be a threat to livestock, they also play an important role in keeping ecosystems healthy. And it is actually possible for us to coexist with wildlife.

To present its case against top predator killing, the documentary includes a spectrum of speakers, from scientists and conservationists to former Wildlife Services trappers, who support alternative means of protection against predators. It also introduces viewers to progressive ranchers who learning to use new technology and old animal husbandry practices in order to live more harmoniously with their traditional enemies.

Some of these suggested alternative measures of protection are being put to the test in California’s Marin County. In 2000, the county terminated its contract with Wildlife Services and implemented a non-lethal community-based program to address livestock-predator issues. This program, called the Marin County Livestock and Wildlife Protection Program, receives support from an array of stakeholders such as members of local wildlife protection organizations, ranchers, and scientists. It aids ranchers by sharing the cost of non-lethal protection measures such as fencing, night corrlaes, and livestock guard animals. Camilla Fox, founder of Project Coyote, an Earth Island Institute project, helped develop the program with the Marin County Department of Agriculture and other stakeholder groups.


Marin County sets a precedent for other counties to follow when it comes to sustainable ranching. A 2008 study comparing the Wildlife Services program to the Marin County program in terms of rancher satisfaction and preferences, livestock losses, use of non-lethal predator deterrent techniques, and costs found that the county’s program not only helped reduce livestock losses, it also lessened the number of predators killed to protect livestock.

Most ranchers are protective of their livestock. When your livestock is your livelihood you would do all that is in your power to shield it from harm. But many ranchers have abandoned the old ways of tending to their livestock, leaving the animals to graze the hills, not checking them for weeks at a time. This leaves the animals exposed and at a higher risk to be preyed on. Back in the day, cowboys were one with their animals. They spent their days watching over their livelihood, building a connection with them, and steering them away from harm. In fact, in the 1930s the Wildlife Services program was known as “USDA’s Animal Damage Control (ADC).” And a common nickname for ADC was “Aid to Dependent Cowboys!”

In the film, Keli Hendricks a California rancher speaks about her shift in rancher ideals. She now spends her time on horseback, maintaining surveillance of her area. Since her attempt to adopt a more sustainable method of defense, Hendricks has reported a decrease in predator-related issues. Becky Weed, a Montana sheep rancher speaks her mind about the predator problems saying, “If I was looking for predator-free ranching I would have settled down on a corn field in Illinois.”

Wild Things inspires us to learn to coexist with nature and the wildlife around us and strive for a more sustainable future.

If you wish to help the cause visit the NRDC’s website and send a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to stop government poisoning of wildlife.


Niki BeigiNiki Beigi photo
Niki Beigi is a fourth-year Environmental Studies major studying at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has a passion for environmental journalism, and is interested in keeping the public informed on the global issues of today.

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Look on one end end of Marin County you have finacial mobsters from Montgomery Securities dining on Fois Grois and escargot and endangered blue fin tuna sushi, on the Tiburon pennisula, then you have teh deep green bio-revolutionaries in Fairfax profueling themselves with microgreens, wild mushroom extracts and Sunflower sprouts. The latter is NOT part of the one percent, they have experience a gravitational pull to this metabolic wellnessdue to many different things, but generally been excluded into the 1% society on the other side of Marin County. Our fellowship believes a standing dichotemylike this is sustained by the systemic poison of CAPITALISM> We would like to turn Mairin county into a “little Cuba” where everyone shared the resources eachof us needs to survive. Until that happens, the Regents believe its best to assert that the super rich who live in Tiberon due so because they were born with genetic superiority: they know how to play the Monopoly game! Therefore get rid of the cows in Marin county once & forall, for god’s sake just five, six hundred years ago none of that crap was roaming around belching more methane gas than all the transportation infrustructure in Marin county. WE CAN ALL DO WITHOUT EATING BEEF: Bovine entities hear this once and forall: the sooner you leave the better. (and that includes the creep money donkin’ scoundrels holedup in Tiberon too!)

By Isha Mazer on Tue, October 29, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Ms. Beigi,

Please get your facts straight before you write another article - is there no truth in journalism?

I used to live in Marin County in the early 2000s – and remember distinctly what a contentious battle it was between Camilla Fox and the sheep ranchers, and how the issue was completely polarized.

Ms.Fox was an agitator regarding the use of compound 1080, however, she had NOTHING to do with the introduction and ‘development’ of the nonlethal Marin County Strategic Livestock and Predator Protection program. The coalition she formed called the Coalition for CA Wildlife sent an opinion letter to the County in 2000 to adopt a similar predator management program used in Fresno County - which was not a nonlethal program. 

The nonlethal program currently in use by Marin County was designed by an organization called Little Blue Society – (I remember that name well because I thought it was an incredibly innovative program at the time). Little Blue Society was invited by the Ag. Commissioner, Stacey Carlsen to design a non-lethal program for the County - which they did, called the Guardian Shepherd Program. The components of this program was tailored and developed for use by Ag. Commissioner Carlsen.

I’m a great fan of coyotes, and support the work of it’s defender, but the recent articles I’ve been reading where Ms. Fox blatantly takes credit for something she did not do is ethically indefensible.

Ms. Fox’s shameless self-promotion and habit of taking other peoples’ credit and rewriting history is absolutely mind-blowing!

The proof:

See #6. Funding for Non-lethal Program Activities: Northbay Woolgrowers Association:

See Item 21. Meeting Minutes:

Not a Fan,

By Aaron W. on Sun, October 27, 2013 at 2:15 pm

So they “protect” their livestock so that they can slaughter them in a most sadistic manner at a later date for personal gain & profit. Wow! How noble!!!!!

Ranchers…you are what you are and not of noble character. You profit off the lives of gentle creatures who serve you all their lives to be rewarded with death and then you also kill off the natural wildlife to not cut into your unholy profit!!!!!!!!!

By Barbara Mahnke on Tue, July 16, 2013 at 7:15 pm

“There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.” ― Aldo Leopold.

By Summer Songs on Thu, July 11, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Yes!!!!! The battle between the ranchers and wildlife needs to be STOPPED. Killing does NOT solve anything. Why is it that they always blame these Beautiful and innocent Wolves for things that they DON’T do? We need to leave the wildlife be, I understand that the ranchers are worried about their live stock but there has to be a non killing way to resolve the situation with the live stock being the prey. Let the Wolves ( and other animals) “RUN FREE AND BE FREE FOREVER”.

By Barb Beronski on Tue, July 09, 2013 at 7:28 am

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