By Phyllis Austin, Maine Environmental News (www.meepi.org). 1/17/03
As the controversy over coyote snaring moves toward legislative combat, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) is preparing to answer tough questions about how carefully the program is being managed. Opponents plan to raise the cost issue during the debate over whether to eliminate coyote snaring altogether.
According to figures gathered by IFW, the department is spending approximately $67,891 a year on coyote control. Twenty thousand of that amount is allocated from the Animal Damage Control account for direct expenses of the coyote program, such as payments to snarers. An average of $26,891 is associated with the coyote-related activities of wildlife biologists in the different regions and charged to a different account. An estimated $21,290 is being spent by the Maine Warden’s Service for enforcement and monitoring services.
The $67,891 amount doesn’t include other costs that everyone involved in the snaring program realize are being incurred. They are considered "hidden" expenses. Foremost on that list of uncalculated costs is the amount of time that upper management officials are devoting to the program. Also undetermined is the impact on other wildlife resource priorities getting short shrift because of the increasing focus on coyote snaring.
With the state facing a projected $1 billion budget shortfall over the next two years and the recent court ruling on the Canada lynx, money has to be of concern, says Jody Jones of Maine Audubon Society. IFW can’t achieve the efficiencies it needs with increasing coyote snaring costs, she said. For instance, Jones pointed to more dollars being spent this winter for IFW’s expanded monitoring of snarers’ traplines. And if the federal listing of lynx is elevated from threatened to endangered, as is now being considered, much more costly oversight by IFW could be required to prevent an accidental "taking" of lynx by snare.
Maine Audubon is introducing a bill to eliminate the coyote snaring program. Another bill would ban the snaring of all wildlife species. Opponents believe that snaring (with a wire loop around the neck) subjects animals to an inhumane death. They contend that coyote killing has become a recreational pursuit, not a true animal damage control program. In any case, they argue that snaring is not an effective deer protection strategy, as proponents claim.
Snaring advocates are prepared for an all-out struggle to save the snaring program from the "protectionists and animal rightists," as trapper association lobbying Skip Trask calls opponents. "I expect trapping to be attacked with a vengeance we’ve never before experienced in Maine," he writes in the current Maine Trappers’ Association newsletter. Trask, a former IFW official, knows that the cost of snaring is going to be raised with lawmakers, "but it shouldn’t," he says. "We think it’s an appropriate use of license dollars to protect the deer herd when it’s below what it should be."
A modest coyote snaring program began 20 years ago with little fanfare, and cost wasn’t a public concern for years. But as Maine’s coyote population increased, killing the fecund critters became popular among hunters and trappers – and the state reimbursed them for their time and vehicle mileage – in effect, a bounty.
There is no "accurate count of dead coyotes to do a calculation" of the per animal cost, according to Henry Hilton, in charge of IFW’s Animal Damage Control program. The department estimates that 300 to 400 coyotes snared annually, he said, and some snarers want to be paid, while others don’t ask.
Last year, the coyote payment was about $26 per animal only using ADC expenditures, Hilton says. "The figure doesn’t mean much," he said, "but in any case we’ll keep track of it from now on."
There was never a specific appropriation for the coyote snaring program, Hilton points out. "The only time we started hearing about blocks of money [being used for snaring] was when questions were raised about how much the department was spending on coyote control," he says.
Hilton receives about $80,000 annually from IFW’s Wildlife Division for the whole animal damage control effort. "What I had done was use [the money] where it needed to be spent," he says. Generally, beaver control took almost two-thirds of the budget, with coyote control and deer fencing around apple orchards using the other one-third.
Several years ago, spending for the program took on a high profile. There were legislative initiatives to require IFW to spend a certain amount on coyote control, with figures ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. Somewhere along the way, the figure of about $20,000 became fixed in peoples’ minds as a mandated appropriation, although, as Hilton reiterates, IFW has allocation flexibility.
Ken Elowe, director of IFW’s Bureau of Resource Management, says the increasing cost from the ADC budget had a lot to do with more trappers wanting to be paid for snaring. IFW’s position was that whatever was spent had to have a "legitimate" reason behind it, he said.
Trappers’ spokesman Trask recognizes that "the department is going to be strapped financially" in the next biennium, but he would like to see a commitment of at least $20,000 for coyote snaring. "In a department with over a $20 million budget . . . $20,000 is peanuts," he says.
Aubudon’s Jones emphasizes that the cost is more than the $20,000 from the ADC budget, as confirmed by IFW. She also points to "the scientific information that says snaring does not do anything to enhance survival of Maine’s deer population." She repeats Audubon’s position that the coyote money would be better spent "on development of management agreements to improve deer habitat." Paying snarers to kill a few hundred coyote preying on deer in particularly vulnerable areas is "throwing money down a hole," she says. "We are looking forward to a great debate about this."
IFW’s snaring program has divided wildlife biologists within the agency. A few of them have been outspoken against snaring in the past, but IFW brass has applied pressure in-house to squelch the discord.
Last year, Region D wildlife biologist Chuck Hulsey in Strong wrote his supervisors that the snaring program has been "politically, not biologically, driven, primarily from a couple of small but highly effective special interest groups" – the trappers’ association and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. Those organizations’ interest was to make coyote killing a recreational sport, he charged.
Wally Jakubas, IFW’s Mammal Group leader, criticized some of the revised 2001-02 snaring guidelines, particularly the expansion of the snaring season through March. The movements of many non-target species increase at that time because of breeding needs, he said. "Snaring in March puts bobcat, lynx and any wolves that may be dispersing into Maine into greater jeopardy," according to Jakubas.
This year, Hulsey weighed in on costs. In a Sept. 30, 2002, memo, he estimated the coyote program cost to "likely somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000."
Hulsey said that the different IFW regions tracked their coyote snaring-related expenses in 2001-2002, as directed. His region, D, "devoted nearly seven weeks of staff time" to snaring. "At one-and-a-half times the hourly salary, plus mileage and payment for one deployment of a snarer [by an IFW biologist), Region D’s cost was $8,000 [more or less]," he said.
The demand on regional staff time for coyote business tripled in 2001-2002, according to Hulsey. Regional staff time was 74 hours in 2000-2001, when 81 coyotes were snared, but only 20 hours in 1999-2000, when 40 coyotes were taken.
"Total hours for the regional program administration do not include those of Sgt. Rick Mills and Region B wildlife biologist James Connolly, both of whom are assigned to the regional snaring committee and assisted with program administration to a lesser degree than Region D staff," Hulsey said. "Also Region D staff time includes estimated hours for two more administrative tasks to be undertaken after this report is due."
Hulsey offered his "educated guess [that] the administrative cost to the other four regions [with the most coyote activity] probably approximates Region D’s, if averaged," Include the time of upper level management and Warden Service, plus the $20,000 specifically earmarked for snaring, and a total cost approaching six figures may not be in the strike zone, but it is in the ballpark," he said.
Hulsey pointed to the uncalculated cost of "the added demand on finite regional wildlife staff resources. Every hour the division spends on coyote control, it loses that amount of time for working with landowners on better deer habitat management or mapping, for example," he said.. Hulsey noted that there were two wildlife biologists in the Farmington region in 1959 and that there are still just two, "yet the scope and volume of responsibility has increased drastically."
"In northern, western and eastern sections of Maine, inadequate wintering habitat is the primary factor limiting deer populations," Hulsey said. But lack of funds – partly due to the expenditure on coyote snaring – meant that 10-week seasonal contracts to help with surveying deer wintering areas were eliminated from the regional operating budget several years ago."
Hilton says that in addition to direct payments to snarers, the $20,000 allocation from the ADC budget includes money for equipment IFW purchases for the trappers, such as the snares or components – cam-locks, deer releases and other specific devices required now by policy. "There are also travel and rental costs associated with training seminars," he says. "And if we hire an ‘expert’ from far away, it would include additional obvious costs of travel."
The $26,891 cost associated with wildlife biologists’ work is related to administration, coordination and training. The amount of time and costs that biologists have devoted to coyote control has roughly doubled from the mid 90s, IFW’s figures show. For instance, in 1996, the number of workdays devoted to the program were 57 at a cost of $12,044 and 3,748 miles driven at a cost of $1,199. The average for 1999-2001 was 109 workdays at a cost of $24,971 and 5,998 miles driven at a cost of $1,919.
The Maine Warden Service is spending another $21,290, according to Maj. Thomas Sataguida, deputy chief game warden. "Please be aware that we have not kept any records on this matter, therefore the figures are estimates to the best of our personnel’s recollection for activities during the past season," he said in a Dec. 25 letter detailing the costs.
Santaguida was responding to a Freedom of Information Act request from Maine Environmental News to provide the cost of the program to the Warden Service. That cost has not been calculated before.
The Warden Service provided estimated hours spent on the snaring program for such activities as meetings, investigations, answering questions, responding to complaints, training and administration. The average total costs to the department per officer per hour is $31.37. Also estimated was miles driven, at 30 cents per mile; phone minutes, at an average cost of 10 cents per minute; and snowmobile hours, at a cost of $10 per hour.
Santaguida estimated the warden hours at 608.5 hours at a cost of $19,088; miles driven, 150, at a cost of $1,845; 2,365 phone minutes at a cost of $236; and 12 snowmobile hours at a cost of $120.
"We do not have figures for the previous two seasons prior to 2001-2002, and it was too far back for any reasonable recollection by our staff," said Santaguida.
Going back to the lynx-related costs, Aubudon’s Jones pointed to new guidelines for this season that increase IFW’s oversight of each trapline to twice a season in lynx territory – double what it was last year. Monitoring requirements resulting from an endangered listing of the lynx could cause the cost to IFW "to be exorbitant," she said.
Jones claimed that "monitoring last year [by IFW] was totally inadequate" – a conclusion she came to after reading warden’s field reports. "They are supposed to have better records this year, but it all costs money," she says.