Budget cuts pose problems for animal predation protection program
The increased visibility and availability of Virginia’s Cooperative Wildlife Damage Management Program has led to an increased dependence on the program among farmers.
With $180,000 of funding standing to be eliminated from the program for fiscal 2021 and 2022, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation is encouraging lawmakers to help keep the program intact. It is critical, Farm Bureau leaders say, for producers who struggle with coyote and black vulture predation.
Introduced by Gov. Ralph Northam in December, the proposed biennial budget included a $90,000 cut to state funds that match federal grants supporting the wildlife program. In the absence of the state match, the grant money stands to be lost as well.
Jointly funded by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, the program was established in 1990 to provide technical information about depredation and provide predator management services for farmers and other landowners.
The budget cuts would likely mean the loss of the program’s eastern livestock protection specialist position, created to serve landowners east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The number of reported coyote observations in that region has more than doubled since 2008, and the increased presence of Wildlife Services has been effective in controlling coyote and black vulture damage to livestock herds.
“The presence of a [Wildlife Services] employee provides an additional resource for farmers to assist in protecting their livestock from predation,” said Scott Barras, state director for Wildlife Services in Virginia. “In areas east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, we have been asked to provide support for the resolution of predation on commercial livestock farms in areas not previously serviced. Assistance with predation to cattle by coyotes and black vultures is especially important in areas east of the Blue Ridge.”
During fiscal 2019, coyotes killed 242 sheep, 42 calves and cattle and nine goats. Black vultures killed an additional 10 sheep, 14 cows, 67 calves, six goats, four piglets and 30 chickens. In total, Wildlife Services provided direct control services to 173 livestock farms in 41 counties statewide in fiscal 2019.
Farm Bureau has voiced support for budget amendments to be introduced by Sen. Frank M. Ruff Jr., R-Clarksville, and Del. Lashrecse D. Aird, D-Petersburg. Both amendments would restore full funding to the wildlife predation management program.
“This program is essential to farmers to deal with nuisance species and wildlife that wreak havoc on their crops or kill their livestock,” said Martha Moore, VFBF vice president of governmental relations. “It is impossible for one person to serve farmers across the commonwealth.”