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Murder Incorporated: Wildlife Services Under Public Scrutiny

"Resolving wildlife conflicts need not involve indiscriminate killing"

A recent essay in the New York Times by their editorial board called "Agriculture's Misnamed Agency" revisits a major problem that has existed for years concerning the murderous ways of a unit with the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services called Wildlife Services (WS). To get a newspaper like the New York Times involved in the killing fields of Wildlife Services is major victory in stopping their unrelenting and heinous war against wildlife. 

The mission of Wildlife Services is "to provide Federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist." As pointed out in the Times essay, "This has meant, since 2000, some two million dead animals. The list includes coyotes, beavers, mountain lions, black bears and innumerable birds. The agency’s real mission? To make life safer for livestock and game species."

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I want to call your attention to this groundbreaking editorial because for years people who have vehemently protested the killing ways of Wildlife Services were written off as radicals or pejoratively, animal rightists. This is just not so. What is so is that Wildlife Services has for decades gotten away with brutally and ruthlessly killing millions upon millions of animals, including individuals of endangered species, as collateral damage. 

I wrote about Wildlife Service's reprehensible ways in an essay called "Murder Inc.: Wildlife Services Brutally Kills Millions of Animals With Your Money" (see also and). In this essay I relied a good deal on two-time Pulitzer prize winner Tom Knudson's three-part series on Wildlife Services (see also) written for The Sacramento Bee. A summary of some of Wildlife Services egregious activities include:

With steel traps, wire snares and poison, agency employees have accidentally killed more than 50,000 animals since 2000 that were not problems, including federally protected golden and bald eagles; more than 1,100 dogs, including family pets; and several species considered rare or imperiled by wildlife biologists.

Since 1987, at least 18 employees and several members of the public have been exposed to cyanide when they triggered spring-loaded cartridges laced with poison meant to kill coyotes. They survived—but 10 people have died and many others have been injured in crashes during agency aerial gunning operations over the same time period.

A growing body of science has found the agency's war against predators, waged to protect livestock and big game, is altering ecosystems in ways that diminish biodiversity, degrade habitat and invite disease.

In all, more than 150 species have been killed by mistake by Wildlife Services traps, snares and cyanide poison since 2000, records show. A list could fill a field guide. Here are some examples:

Armadillos, badgers, great-horned owls, hog-nosed skunks, javelina, pronghorn antelope, porcupines, great blue herons, ruddy ducks, snapping turtles, turkey vultures, long-tailed weasels, marmots, mourning doves, red-tailed hawks, sandhill cranes and ringtails.

The body count includes more than 25,000 red and gray foxes, 10,700 bobcats, 2,800 black bears, 2,300 timber wolves and 2,100 mountain lions. But the vast majority—about 512,500—were coyotes.

Aerial gunning is the agency's most popular predator-killing tool. Since 2001, more than 340,000 coyotes have been gunned down from planes and helicopters across 16 Western states, including California—an average of 600 a week, agency records show.

Between 2004 and 2010, Wildlife Services killed over 22.5 million animals to protect agribusiness. The agency spends $100 million each year, and Wildlife Services' job is to "eradicate" and "bring down" wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, bears, prairie dogs, and other wild animals.

In 2010, Wildlife Services killed 5 million animals (this number does not include the thousands of birds the Service has since admitted to poisoning in 2010), including 112,781 mammalian carnivores such as coyotes, wolves, bobcats, cougars, badgers and bears. 

It's not radical to openly oppose the hideous killing by Wildlife Services. Wild Earth Guardians has sued WS, Project Coyote has an action alert to stop the killing of wildlife on public lands and to ban predator poisons, and the American Society of Mammalogists, a prestigious professional organization, has formally criticized WS. There is also a petition you can sign herePredator Defense is nearing completion of "EXPOSED: USDA's Secret War on Wildlife", a documentary that examines the nearly 100 year history of this agency, its ruthless killing policies on behalf of agricultural interests, and the egregious misconduct surrounding its operation. You can see a sneak preview of "EXPOSED" here.

According to Camilla Fox, founder of Project Coyote, the timing of the New York Times essay "couldn't have been better with our meeting tomorrow [July 19, 2013] with the USDA and Wildlife Services here in DC that Project Coyote has led and organized. Eleven other non-governmental agencies will join me and Project Coyote Science Advisory Board member Dr. Robert Crabtree at this meeting where we will put forth our recommendations for reform of this agency and deliver our petition calling for the termination of federal trapper Jamie Olson for animal cruelty and an investigation into this program. [For an in-depth look at the Jamie Olson matter, please see this extensive review by Predator Defense.] Following on the heals of our request for an investigation Representatives Peter Defazio (D-OR) and John Campbell (R-CA) requested a Congressional investigation into the agency and a 'program that allows for, and encourages, inhumane and lethal methods of predator control.'" 

"Resolving wildlife conflicts need not involve indiscriminate killing"

The concluding paragraph of the Times essay says it all about Wildlife Service's clandestine ways: "It is time the public got a clear picture of what Wildlife Services is up to, and time for the Department of Agriculture to bring the agency’s work into accord with sound biological practices. Resolving wildlife conflicts need not involve indiscriminate killing." Amen. 

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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