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Our Opinion: Study problem first

February 03, 2001

While we recognize that coyotes and other animals are a continual problem to ranchers and farmers in the Imperial Valley, we have some concerns about the county's plan to hire an animal depredation specialist.

Coyotes, birds and rabbits combined caused $1 million in losses to sheep ranchers, aquaculture and farmers in the past year, and the problem reportedly is getting worse. Our concern is whether the problem is truly one to be addressed, and paid for, by the county.

While coyotes are predators and can legally be shot, engaging in wholesale slaughter does not seem to be a good solution. While the county could perhaps play a role in coordinating efforts, we don't feel a depredation specialist is the answer.

Country Supervisors Chairman Tony Tirado suggested the county work with state and federal wildlife officials, and said the sheep, fish and farming communities also need to cooperate. We agree. A concerted effort by those involved to solve their own problems, with county supervision or backing if necessary, might be a better answer. Whether it involves fences to keep coyotes out or coordinated hunting or snaring of rabbits, we believe cooperation can help reduce the problem.

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And while $1 million sounds like a lot of money, the agriculture industry in the Valley is worth more than $1 billion annually, and there will always be problems with birds, rabbits and coyotes. If the problem is at an extreme right now it needs to be addressed, but it isn't going to go away. Coyotes are too clever to ever be wiped out, birds come here by the millions and rabbits are too, well, prolific to make scarce.

The role we would like to see the county play is in gathering information. Studying the rabbits and coyotes — gathering information on their population density, habitat, habits, etc. — would be valuable. While we don't think farmers are going to wipe out all of the coyotes or rabbits, the animals are a part of our desert habitat and we should care for them when they aren't hurting our interests. For example, there probably is no good reason to shoot a coyote 40 miles away from a farm. He or she is probably doing more good than harm to our county.

We don't want to see lambs, fish or crops destroyed by wildlife, but neither do we want to see innocent wildlife destroyed in search of profit or in pure meanness. With proper cooperation and coordination. we hope to see the parties involved reach a humane and economically sensible solution.

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