Members of South Carolina’s Republican delegation want to help save livestock from predatory black vultures by way of a depredation order from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A letter led by U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, and signed by each GOP member of the state’s congressional delegation was sent to the service earlier this month requesting it to consider issuing a depredation order on a state-by-state basis and grant one for South Carolina.
The letter suggests the state’s livestock industry is “under attack” by black vultures, predatory birds that are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
These birds are considered scavengers, feeding on anything from road kill to the remains of animals left by predators. Black vultures congregate in large communal roosts, and their predatory behavior can lead them to attack and kill vulnerable animals like calves, lambs and piglets.
And since they are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, if producers witness the attacks occurring, they are required to seek a permit before they can act to protect their property, according to the letter from the congressional members.
This can exacerbate the losses farmers experience as additional attacks can occur during the time it takes to get the necessary permits, the letter said.
Cattle are one of the state’s top commodities, contributing $133.7 million to the economy annually, according a news release from S.C. Farm Bureau. The nonprofit organization supports family farmers, and said the behavior of black vultures has resulted in significant losses for the state’s cattle farmers.
There are nearly 25,000 farms and 4.7 million acres of farmland in the state. According to the 2020 State Agriculture Overview, South Carolina’s cattle inventory, including calves, was about 330,000.
Nearly $17,000 in damages have been reported over the last three years, according to the S.C. Farm Bureau.
“I would guess the actual losses would be significantly greater than this ‘reported’ number,” said Stephanie Sox, director of promotion and education for the S.C. Farm Bureau Federation.
Sox said the organization has heard much more anecdotally about farmers losing livestock to predation by vultures, but the cases were not officially reported.
“The well-being of our livestock is top priority for cattle farmers and they were left without a tenable solution to dealing with vultures,” said Harry Ott, president of the S.S. Farm Bureau Federation.
He said he appreciates the support of the legislators for the depredation order, which would be “an important tool in a long-term solution to help protect cattle and calves.”
The state Republican delegation sent the letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s principal deputy director, Martha Williams, on Jan. 18. The delegation had not yet received a response as of Jan. 26.
James Elliott Jr., executive director of the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw, said based on his experience, there is often a lack of scientific data to support the need for a depredation order.
“It gets to be more of a reaction to a circumstance or instance, and in many cases, more emotional than scientific,” Elliott said. “But in general, it’s (a depredation order) not good science.”
According to Elliott, vultures aren’t a disease threat, but are very intelligent and highly hygienic.
“But until we deal with what the attraction is, we’re just going to set up a perpetual action of whatever it is to solve the problem,” he said.
Wild birds are opportunistic and have to search daily for food to survive. And if a particular group of vultures is removed, but the source or attraction remains, Elliott said they will just be replaced by another group.
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