Wildlife, A Valuable Resource

Wild animals are an important part of our environment, and for centuries they have served our needs in a number of ways. Historically, many species were used for food, clothing, or adornment. But in those earlier years, wildlife was seldom managed. Some species, such as the passenger pigeon, became extinct; and other species, like the bison and beaver, became seriously depleted.

Today, wildlife continues to provide people with a variety of benefits. Wild animals contribute to our enjoyment of outdoor recreational activities such as camping, hiking, photography, and hunting. The knowledge that abundant wildlife exists is important for many people. Diverse wildlife species are major components of a healthy environment; beavers, for example, can create aquatic habitats beneficial to fish and waterfowl.

Wildlife is receiving increased attention as people develop a broadened environmental consciousness. Wildlife is now recognized as having esthetic as well as practical value and is managed by the Federal and State Governments to ensure future abundance. In some instances, however, this abundance has led to conflicts between human and wildlife interests as the following examples illustrate.

  • People admire the industrious beaver. However, when beavers disperse and take up residence near people, their dams may cause flooding that damages valuable timber stands, roadways, drainage culverts, and agricultural land. In the Southeastern United States, beavers cause an estimated $100 million in damage annually to public and private property.
  • Mountain lions are regarded as regal animals symbolizing wilderness, and as a result of conservation efforts, their populations are thriving across much of the West. In California and Arizona, lion predation on livestock—sheep, cattle, and horses—has increased. There are also occasional encounters between lions and people. In April and December 1994, two California women were attacked and killed by mountain lions—one while jogging along the American River and the second while birding in Cuyamacca State Park.
  • The mournful howl of a coyote symbolizes the wild West for many people. However, coyotes can inflict heavy economic damage to producers of domestic sheep, goats, and cattle. In 1994, sheep and goat producers lost an estimated $23.2 million due to predation. In 1995, cattle producers’ losses to predators were worth $39.6 million. Coyotes alone caused $11.5 million in sheep losses, $1.6 million in goat losses, and $21.8 million in cattle losses nationwide. Even in Eastern States, where coyotes were relatively unheard of a decade ago, incidents of predation on livestock are increasing.
  • Wildlife can adversely affect public safety and health. Commercial and military aircraft sometimes collide with birds and mammals during taxiing, takeoff, and landing. According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials, approximately 2,250 collisions between civilian aircraft and wildlife are reported each year. Eighty percent of aircraft—wildlife collisions are believed to go unreported. In all, these collisions cause millions of dollars’ worth of damage. The potential for human injury and death is increased significantly when wildlife is not kept away from airports and runways.
  • Wildlife-borne diseases of significant concern to humans include rabies, bubonic plague, and histoplasmosis. These diseases can be carried, reservoired, or transmitted by wildlife to other wildlife, domestic livestock, and people. During 1995, the U.S. Public Health Service’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 8,566 cases of animal rabies in the United States. Of these cases, 92 percent were in wildlife; 50 percent of these involved raccoons. Rabies prevention costs between $230 million and $1 billion a year in the United States.

Many people do not realize that everyone is adversely affected by the actions of wildlife at one time or another. Every consumer pays more for commodities when supplies are decreased or damaged by wildlife. However, the total value of the damage is extremely difficult to estimate on a national scale. According to a survey conducted by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, more than half of U.S. farmers experience economic loss from wildlife damage. Birds cause an estimated annual loss to U.S. agriculture of $100 million. During 1 year in Pennsylvania, white-tailed deer caused crop losses totalling $30 million. The annual total dollar loss in the United States from wildlife damage to agriculture is estimated to exceed $550 million.

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Last Modified: January 28, 2010