"Wildlife Services,” a secretive arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, annually kills millions of animals. In Fiscal Year 2012 the agency reported it killed 3.4 million animals, an 11 percent decrease from FY 2011, although the largest decline is represented by non-native starlings killed. Also agents killed slightly fewer native carnivores from the previous year, but increased the numbers of grey wolves killed.
The veracity of Wildlife Services’ kill numbers is always suspected. It is a secretive agency that uses unknown data collection techniques and is politically motivated to undercount the number of animals killed with the hopes that it would avoid scrutiny. After more than a year of adverse attention, we are not surprised to see their reported kill numbers decrease. But what they kill and what they report often do not match up.
“Guys who kill non-target animals don't report it,” said Gary Strader, a former Wildlife Services agent. “There's not a fraction of the non-target kills reported by the guys in the field. Figures lie and liars figure."
Last year, Wildlife Services came under greater scrutiny. First, the Sacramento Bee published a critical series of articles and an editorial exposing the agency’s killing programs. Then, WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit that challenged the agency’s 18-year-old management guidance as flawed and devoid of modern scientific principles, and for operating aerial-gunning craft in designated wilderness areas. We lost our case in federal district court. The court determined that citizens had "no standing" to bring judicial scrutiny on the program.
year, Wildlife Services received negative attention in two cases of trapping
In one, the agent trapped his neighbor’s dog in multiple leghold traps, which
caused her to lose teeth and endure unimaginable suffering. Agent Russell Files
was charged with felony animal cruelty to animals, and then later left his job.
Another agent may have taken photographs of his dogs that had attacked coyotes
in leghold traps resulting in harm and death. The photos from his FaceBook page
became in Internet sensation and the result of several news stories. Congressmen
Peter DeFazio and John Campbell then demanded to see Wildlife Services’ investigative
reports of this incident, which the agency appeared to hide until documents
were leaked to Sacramento Bee
reporter, Tom Knudson, who Tweeted them.
In FY 2012, Wildlife Services reported it killed nearly 1,058 house cats, 488 domestic dogs, 62 American white pelicans, and 2,400 meadowlarks. Other notable changes from the previous year include:
- Far more American kestrels and red-tailed hawks than the previous year.
- Mammalian carnivores (wolves, coyotes, bears, bobcats, fishers, cougars, weasels, skunks, raccoons, and foxes) killed decreased by nine percent from FY 2011.
- The number of animals poisoned by cyanide M-44s decreased by 12 percent.Yet, indiscriminate and dangerous sodium cyanide M-44s killed 13,585 coyotes, 487 grey foxes, 275 red foxes, and much more.
- The number of animals killed by aerial gunning decreased from 48,811 to 38,492. Wildlife Services claims it killed fewer coyotes, bobcats, and feral hogs from aircraft, but increased the numbers of gray wolves shot this way.
Coyotes were again the most exploited mammalian carnivore with 76,611 killed in FY 2012, and Wildlife Services killed 503 gray wolves, a species that was prematurely removed from the protections of the Endangered Species Act.
Wildlife Services spends millions of taxpayer dollars on killing coyotes, a practice that has increased coyotes’ range by threefold in its 100-year history. Killing coyotes must be like a drug addiction for them – they just cannot stop even though it’s really expensive, unfruitful, and puts the public and the program’s agents in harm’s way.
Jim Baca, a former director of the Bureau of Land Management in the 1990s, called Wildlife Services, “ . . . a carpet bomber of the West because of the scale of indiscriminate killing of native wildlife.” He added, “If Congress is serious about saving money, this is where they should start."
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