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Transfer of Predator Program Causes Mixed Reaction

January 2, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Conservationists are fretting over and livestock growers happy with the transfer of a little-known predator-control program from the Interior Department to the Agriculture Department.

The catchall spending bill passed in the closing days of the 1985 congressional session provides for the takeover of the program by Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service from Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service on April 1.

Conservationists and animal welfare groups had successfully resisted such transfers several times, most recently in 1981, ever since the Fish and Wildlife Service was transferred to Interior from Agriculture in 1939.

″I view it as a very important step in developing a much more meaningful and productive management program. I don’t see the spooks and ballyhoos raised by the conservation groups,″ said Ron Michieli, who is both executive director of the Public Lands Council and natural resources director of the National Cattlemen’s Association.

But Susan Hagood of the Defenders of Wildlife said, ″Most environmental groups see Interior’s responsibility for wildlife as a safeguard.″

USDA, she said, ″will have to operate under″ such laws as the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, ″but has no background in them.″

She said her organization might have supported the transfer if the program were going to the Extension Service in the Agriculture Department. That agency already offers advice to farmers and others on non-lethal predator-control techniques in places such as Kansas, she said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has been spending $15 million a year, with states, local government and others paying another $11 million a year towards the service’s costs. Michieli said he believed predators caused $10 million to $15 million a year in damage to livestock.

Much of the work has been focused on coyote attacks on cattle and sheep, but predator-control officers also have to deal with starlings in rice fields, Aleutian Canada geese in wheat fields and birds endangering airplanes around airports.

Bob Acord, assistant director of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for legislative and poublic affairs, said his agency’s immediate goal was ″to try to keep things on an even keel″ during the transfer and ″I don’t think at this point we’re prepared to offer new program direction.″

But, he added, ″the producer organizations that fought so hard for this will, over a period of time, expect some changes.″

Among the changes, he said, would be formation over advisory groups including conservationists. ″Conservationists have a role to play in this, too,″ he said.

″We plan to involve the extension service as much as we can,″ he said.

Agriculture Secretary John Block and the Office of Management and Budget supported the transfer, Acord said. Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel’s position was ″that he would not support the transfer but he would not oppose it,″ said Meagan Durham, spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

She declined to say what position officials of the service took.

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