The United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program kills millions of animals a year because they are either considered a nuisance or are killed accidentally. Some of the animals that are not targeted, but are killed by mistake, are on the endangered species list.
Many of the animals killed are invasive species, but according to a release from the Center for Biological Diversity two million native animals were culled last year. That number represents an increase of nearly 500,000 animals since 2012.
The more than four million animals shot, poisoned, snared or trapped by the Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services in fiscal year 2013 included 75,326 coyotes, 866 bobcats, 528 river otters, 3,700 foxes, 12,186 prairie dogs, 973 red-tailed hawks, 419 black bears and at least three eagles, golden and bald. There are also animals that are on the endangered species list that are killed by accident, such as the Mexican Grey Wolf.
Although there is a list of animals killed, there is very little data explaining the reason why the animals were killed, the methods used, or the reasons behind mistakes that lead to massive kills of animals that are not targeted.
“Not everything this agency does is bad,” said Andrew Wetzler, director of the land and wildlife program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Whether it’s controlling rabies or feral hogs, there is a role for the federal government.”
If Wildlife Services limited itself to protecting the public from rabies, this would be seen as acceptable, but they do not stop there. Since the Herbert Hoover administration in the 1930s, it has legally entered into agreements with ranchers, farmers and private industry, which pay half its costs for killing animals.
Wildlife Services has consistently declined to disclose who it has entered into agreements with and how the money is spent, said Wetzler and other critics. “We asked them about data. How much do they use poison, where? How much do they spend renting helicopters to gun down coyotes and wolves?” Wetzler said. “The consistent answer we’ve gotten back, is ‘We don’t know’. There’s a severe lack of transparency.”
“Wildlife Services is one of the most opaque and obstinate departments I’ve dealt with,” said Representative Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.). “We’re really not sure what they’re doing. I’ve asked the agency to give me breakdowns on what lethal methods they’re using. They can’t or won’t do that. We’ve asked them to tell us what goes into their poisons. They won’t say.”
DeFazio and several colleagues requested the USDA inspector general to conduct an audit of Wildlife Services. “The WS program is inefficient, inhumane and in need of a review,” they wrote in a letter to Inspector General Phyllis Fong. They said that the frequent killings of top predators, such as wolves, bears and coyotes, benefit “a small proportion of the nation’s private agriculture” and other interests.
Concerns over Wildlife Services spiked last year when agent Jamie Olson, an employee of Wyoming Wildlife Services posted photographs on Facebook showing his dogs attacking and mauling a coyote caught in a trap, said Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Project Coyote, calling it blatant animal cruelty.
Olson acknowledged he made a mistake, “not in his coyote hunting practices but in letting the photos, which he says are more than five years old, be publicly accessible,” according to a post in the Missoula Independent, a weekly journal in Montana.
In January, Wildlife Services trapper Russell Files was arrested in Arizona for intentionally snaring a neighbor’s dog in a steel trap. Before the dog was rescued, the animal lost seventeen teeth trying to chew off its own leg.
Amy Atwood, endangered species legal director and senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity described Wildlife Services’ work as “a staggering killing campaign, bankrolled by taxpayers” and happening “beyond the view of most Americans.”
Wildlife Services claims it has to eliminate invasive species, yet it kills animals that are non-invasive on massive scales without any regard for the ecosystem. It also has no compassion for the animals, as it does not concern itself how much the animals suffer before they die. It appears that its only concern is getting the job done and reaping the financial rewards.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons: courtesy of Jim Clark