Ranchers, farmers will try to save trapper program

Marina Riker By Marina Riker

Dec. 11, 2017 at 8:33 p.m.
Updated Dec. 12, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Victoria County Commissioners Court

Victoria County Commissioners Court   Advocate file image for The Victoria Advocate

Ranchers and farmers in Victoria County have a few more months to save a program that pays a specialist to trap coyotes, feral hogs and other animals that destroy livestock and crops.

To make up for budget shortfalls, county commissioners in August decided to stop paying for an expert to trap pests at no cost to ranchers. In 2018, the county would have paid about half the trapper's salary - $32,000 - while the state and federal governments would have covered the rest of the cost.

But the program cut didn't go over so well with some of Victoria's ranchers, about a dozen of whom crowded into a commissioners meeting Monday to tell officials how the change would hurt animals, crops and profits. After a lengthy discussion, commissioners decided to fund the program for 90 days while the county and ranchers work to find private money to cover half the cost - about $16,000.

"It could potentially put some of them out of business," said Linda Hejl, who oversees part of the trapping program for the state's wildlife division.

Cutting the trapper position could cost the county an estimated $4.5 million in damages to crops, livestock and public health, said Hejl. Meanwhile, ranchers can expect attacks on prey animals to increase about 10 percent, she said.

G.A. Gutmann, 80, is one of the ranchers who fears what could happen without the trapper's help. In addition to trapping animals on his property, the trapper taught him how to most efficiently set up his own traps, he said.

"It's a full-time job just to do the trapping," said Gutmann.

In the first year the trapper worked on Gutmann's ranch, he killed 45 coyotes, which were attacking chickens, he said. The trapper can also target animals such as buzzards that ranchers aren't allowed to shoot, he said.

Gutmann recalled a time when one of his cows was in labor and buzzards began to attack her. They picked off so much flesh that she couldn't have survived, he said.

"The only thing you can do is shoot her," said Gutmann.

However, some commissioners wondered whether there could be a more efficient way to trap pesky animals. Last year, the trapper caught about 220 animals at an average cost of about $147 each, said County Judge Ben Zeller.

"I'm just thinking of options where they can be exterminated for less," said Zeller.

Commissioners Gary Burns and Kevin Janak also had concerns about the number of animals trapped but volunteered to work with ranchers and farmers to come up with a solution. Pursuing grants and other sources of private funding are options they discussed.

Also Monday, commissioners took the first step to end a lengthy legal battle with a company that wanted to dump waste from sewage plants, restaurants and car washes onto its 726-acre property in Inez.

After talking privately with the county's attorney, commissioners decided to pursue a settlement agreement with San Antonio-based Beneficial Land Management.

Under the agreement, the company wouldn't be able to dump waste from restaurants, automotive shops and car washes onto its property in exchange for the county dropping its legal fight.

"It's basically introducing untreated biohazards into Victoria County property," said Commissioner Clint Ives.

The company was planning to dump the potentially toxic chemicals near Arenosa Creek, which runs into the region's bays, said Ives.

"It's got a much larger impact than just Inez, Texas," said Ives. "It's a much broader public health issue."



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