Black vulture depredation permits available in Texas

Brownwood Bulletin
Scott Anderson

More ranchers are finding their livestock, particularly newborn or young animals, falling victim to black vultures. Although the birds are primarily carrion scavengers, they’re also a predatory species that kill kid goats, calves and lambs when the opportunity arises.

“Traditionally, black vultures are only found in South Texas, but in the last decade they’ve expanded, and the population has grown. They’ve always been a problem for ranchers, but with the expansion in range and numbers, it’s become an even bigger problem,” Texas Wildlife Services (TWS) Program State Director Mike Bodenchuk said. And now we’ve seen changes in Texas livestock production. Where people used to breed wool sheep, they’re raising hair breeds. Hair breeds might be lambing year-round, calves are hitting the ground in unusual seasons or what used to be unusual season, and now we’ve got a bigger problem because there are a lot of vultures in the summer and fall.

The crafty birds have learned to home in on livestock birthing areas. Although they assist in cleaning up afterbirth and stillborn livestock, they also gather in large numbers to attack females during the birthing process, resulting in lost replacement animals and sometimes lost mothers, as well.

The black vulture is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prevents people from killing vultures or any other migratory bird without a permit.

So, to help Texas ranchers who are losing livestock to black vultures, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) granted a permit to the Texas Wildlife Damage Management Association (TWDMA) for black vulture management. TWDMA is a member of the cooperative TWS.

Previously, those experiencing issues with the birds could obtain a depredation permit from FWS, but it’s a time-consuming and detailed process. Now, a sub-permit can be quickly issued by TWDMA.

The traditional permitting process through FWS can be long and problematic. You must apply online, pay online and then there can be a 60- to 90-day wait, which for most people, is too long. But the blanket permit issued by FWS to TWDMA allows the association to give sub-permit status to livestock producers. They can contact the Wildlife Services district office, speak with a biologist and the association can issue a permit usually within about 48 hours.

Depredation permits allow for lethal removal of a few vultures to reinforce nonlethal harassment. Under the sub-permit, ranchers can remove up to five black vultures each. The blanket permit issued by FWS to TWDMA allows for the lethal removal of up to 750 vultures in Texas.

Non-lethal control methods include auditory and visual dispersal methods like lasers, propane cannons and “effigies,” decoy birds hung head-down as though they were dead.

Lethal control serves as a deterrent to remaining members of the bird’s flock.

He also noted TWS recommends ranchers hang the dead vultures in a nearby tree because vultures don’t like to come near a dead vulture.

So, by shooting one and hanging it as an effigy, a rancher can reinforce hazing and chase another 50 of them off.

The agency recognizes the permit cap of 750 is limited, but there is a possibility it might be extended if there’s enough need.

TWS biologists would be “triaging” cases to make sure those who have the most need can get a permit. Ranchers should call their TWS district office to start the sub-permit application process.

Farm Service Agency accepting nominations

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) began accepting nominations for county committee members on June 15. Elections will occur in certain Local Administrative Areas (LAA) for these members who make important decisions about how federal farm programs are administered locally. All nomination forms for the 2021 election must be postmarked or received in the local FSA office by Aug. 2, 2021.

“We need enthusiastic, diverse leaders to serve other agricultural producers locally on FSA County Committees,” said Eddie Trevino Acting State Executive Director for FSA in Texas. “Now’s your time to step up and truly make an impact on how federal programs are administered at the local level to reach all producers fairly and equitably.”

Trevino said agricultural producers who participate or cooperate in a USDA program, and reside in the LAA that is up for election this year, may be nominated for candidacy for the county committee. A cooperating producer is someone who has provided information about their farming or ranching operation to FSA, even if they have not applied or received program benefits. Individuals may nominate themselves or others and qualifying organizations may also nominate candidates. USDA encourages minority producers, women and beginning farmers or ranchers to nominate, vote, and hold office.

Nationwide, more than 7,700 dedicated members of the agricultural community serving on FSA county committees. The committees are made up of three to 11 members who serve three-year terms. Producers serving on FSA county committees play a critical role in the day-to-day operations of the agency. Committee members are vital to how FSA carries out disaster programs, as well as conservation, commodity and price support programs, county office employment and other agricultural issues.

LAAs are elective areas for FSA committees in a single county or multi-county jurisdiction. This may include LAAs that are focused on an urban or suburban area.

Urban and Suburban County Committees

The 2018 Farm Bill directed USDA to form urban county committees as well as make other advancements related to urban agriculture, including the establishment of the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production. FSA established county committees specifically focused on urban agriculture. The urban county committees will work to encourage and promote urban, indoor and other emerging agricultural production practices. Additionally, the new county committees may address areas such as food access, community engagement, support of local activities to promote and encourage community compost and food waste reduction.

Urban committee members are nominated and elected to serve by local urban producers in the same jurisdiction. These members are a vital link in the effective administration of USDA programs and are responsible for carrying out programs in full accordance with the regulations, national and state policies, procedures, and instructions. Urban county committee members will provide outreach to ensure urban producers understand USDA programs and serve as the voice of other urban producers and assist in program implementation that support the needs of the growing urban community. Urban county committees must see that county office operations are supportive and that they receive timely and quality service by carrying out responsibilities effectively, efficiently, and impartially. Learn more at farmers.gov/urban.

More Information

Producers should contact their local FSA office today to register and find out how to get involved in their county’s election. They should check with their local USDA Service Center to see if their LAA is up for election this year. To be considered, a producer must be registered and sign an FSA-669A nomination form or an FSA-669-A-3 for urban county committees. The form and other information about FSA county committee elections are available at fsa.usda.gov/elections.

Election ballots will be mailed to eligible voters beginning Nov. 1, 2021. To find your local USDA Service Center, visit farmers.gov/service-locator.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov