Birdwatching, hunting, and wildlife photography provide important recreational, aesthetic, and income-generating benefits to the American public. In addition, wildlife help maintain ecosystems, and the mere knowledge that wildlife exist is viewed as beneficial by many people. At the same time, however, some wildlife destroy crops, kill livestock, damage property, and pose risks to public health and safety. Further, as the U.S. population has grown and impinged upon wildlife habitats, conflicts between wildlife and humans and their property have become increasingly common. Wildlife Services, a program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, is tasked with controlling damage by wildlife. Mammals and birds damage crops, forestry seedlings, and aquaculture products each year, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. In fiscal year 2000, predators killed half a million livestock--mostly lambs and calves--valued at $70 million. To reduce such threats, Wildlife Services conducts operational and research activities with federal, state, and local agencies; agricultural producers and ranchers; private homeowners; and others. In carrying out these activities, Wildlife Services applies the most appropriate methods, whether lethal or nonlethal, of prevention and control. Considerable opportunity exists for developing effective nonlethal means of controlling damage by wildlife on farms and ranches--for example, through wildlife contraceptives or through the use of scare devices triggered by motion sensors. In view of the growing controversy surrounding the use of lethal controls, Wildlife Services scientists are focusing most of their research on developing improved nonlethal control techniques. GAO identified no independent assessments of the costs and benefits associated with Wildlife Services' program.
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