Wildlife Services Is Not on the Side of Wildlife

Picture by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren (Wikimedia Commons)

By Genevieve Cottraux

In a recent report from the Center for Biological Diversity, posted by the organization Planet Experts, it was found that according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the federal Wildlife Services program killed 2.7 million animals in 2016.  In its annual “kill report,” the agency data shows that 1.6 million of the 2.7 million deaths were of native wildlife species.  Wildlife Services maintains that it “manages the damages” caused by so-called invasive species, yet less than half of the animals in the report are actually considered invasive.  The Center for Biological Diversity asserts that of the almost 3 million animals killed yearly, many are unintentional kills that include household pets.  Animals targeted are considered nuisances by the agribusiness industry and critics call the agency a “subsidy for livestock interests” that has no oversight, accountability, or disclosure requirements.  Non-invasive species reported to have been killed by the agency in 2016 include:

  • 415 gray wolves
  • 76,963 adult coyotes
  • an unknown number of coyote pups from 430 destroyed dens
  • 407 black bears
  • 334 mountain lions
  • 997 bobcats (32 of which were unintentional)
  • 535 river otters (415 of which were unintentional)
  • 3,791 foxes
  • an unknown number of fox pups in 128 destroyed dens
  • 21,184 beavers

Reported unintentional kills, estimated at about 2,790 animals, include several species of deer, foxes, porcupines, turtles, hawks, owls, and eagles, such as 2 bald eagles, considered unique to North America and the national symbol of the United States.  Bald eagles were nearly wiped out by hunting and pesticides like DDT.  They have rebounded under protection and reintroduction programs.

Picture by Art Straub (PIXNIO)

Almost 15,000 prairie dogs were reported killed, plus an unknown number from more than 68,000 destroyed burrows.  It is believed by critics that the agency underreports the kill numbers and uses cruel, outdated methods like leg-hold traps, strangulation snares, and cyanide traps.  In 2014, a former agent for Wildlife Services told a Los Angeles Times reporter that agents “were told to doctor their reports—we were not allowed to show we killed household pets.”  During a 2012 investigation by the Sacramento Bee, Dennis Orthmeyer, state director of Wildlife Services in California, said “We pride ourselves on our ability to go in and get the job done quietly without many people knowing about it.”

Collette Adkins, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity as well as a biologist, writes:

Killing large predators to reduce livestock conflicts or benefit game populations has long been thought to be ineffective—and devastating for ecosystems—and a growing body of scientific literature criticizing the widespread practice is confirming those fears. . . . Given the ecological importance of wolves and other predators, scientists are calling for implementation of nonlethal methods to prevent livestock depredations . . . . In addition to the ecological and wildlife policy concerns with lethal control of predators, public acceptance of lethal predator control methods appears to be declining.

Of the dozens of agencies and programs targeted for elimination by President Donald Trump in his federal budget proposal, Wildlife Services is not on the list.  Programs that actually benefit wildlife, such as the National Wildlife Refuge Fund of the Department of the Interior, which maintains 563 wildlife refuges, are on the list.  The Trump Administration is widely considered to be friendly to agribusiness and the cattle industry.  Wildlife Services is run under the USDA, for which Sonny Perdue is Trump’s nominee for Secretary.  Perdue cleared the Senate Agriculture Committee on March 30, 2017 and now faces the full Senate for confirmation.  He is seen as “unlikely to prioritize” environmental issues.

Picture by CORLIN (Wikimedia Commons)

In another setback for wildlife in the United States, the Humane Society of the United States reports that the U.S. House of Representatives voted in February to overturn a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule that prevented “shooting or trapping wolves while at their dens with cubs, using airplanes to scout for grizzly bears to shoot, trapping bears with cruel steel-jawed leghold traps and wire snares and luring grizzly bears with food to get a point blank kill” on national wildlife refuges in the state of Alaska.  The resolution, HJ Res 69, passed 225 to 193 with 12 representatives not voting.  Alaska voters themselves oppose these cruel methods of killing wildlife.

The Humane Party supports the preservation of our remaining ecosystems and the protection of species within these ecosystems, with proposed actions that include granting legal personhood to all animals on public lands.