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Setting the Record Straight: Why Wildlife Services Needs to Be Investigated

Andrew Wetzler

Posted April 7, 2014

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In case you missed it, this weekend NPR News featured a story about Wildlife Services, the federal program that kills 100,000 native predators each year, and the ongoing federal investigation into its activities. In the piece, several claims are attributed to Kevin Shea, USDA’s Wildlife Service’s Administrator, which are, at best, misleading. Among them:

  •  Wildlife Services “collects fees from ranchers to pay for its work;”
  • “Lethal methods are used sparingly and as a last resort;” and
  •  “Wildlife Services is working to become more transparent. He says every lethal encounter is now posted on its website.”

Let’s take these one-by-one, shall we?

First, while it true that Wildlife Services collects fees from ranchers to help pay for its work, what Shea doesn’t seem to point out is that the federal taxpayer still foots the bill for about half of all of Wildlife Services’ costs. That adds up to $87milliion dollars a year in taxpayer dollars, money which goes to activities such as paying over $800 per hour to shoot wolves from helicopters and airplanes (a doubly-ironic expenditure of funds, given that taxpayers also footed the bill to reintroduced wolves in the West and some of the killing even goes on in federal wilderness—far away from any ranch). More perniciously using taxpayer funds to subsidize predator control creates a vicious circle all around: local governments and private ranchers have little incentive to try nonlethal methods of predator control when they can buy federal lethal control at a fifty-percent discount; as for Wildlife Services’, its budget and staffing quickly becomes captive to securing its clients’ fees.

Methods employed by Wildlife Services Predator Control ProgramSecond, when it comes to its predator control program, Wildlife Services simply does not use lethal methods “sparingly.” As my colleague Melissa Waage points out, 98% of Wildlife Services’ interactions predators such as bears, foxes, wolves, mountain lions, and bobcats, end with a dead predator. Indeed, Wildlife Services kills an astonishing 227 coyotes every day, that’s over 1 million coyotes dead since 2000 (all of which may be counter-productive, as there is evidence that killing coyotes actually spurs overall population growth). 

Third, while it is true that Wildlife Services reports the number of animals it kills (that’s how we calculated the chart you see here) the agency refuses to disclose much more than that, even to Congress. As the NPR story makes clear, Wildlife Services will not provide any detailed information on how much money it spends, say, putting explosive poison bait on public land, or where that bait is scattered. It won’t tell us the location of the animals it kills with any sort of detail, nor does it usually disclose why individual animals are killed.  Representative Peter DeFazio summed it up best:

"It is probably one of the most opaque, unaccountable agencies in the federal government," DeFazio says. "I've served on Homeland Security for a number of years, and I can safely say that the doings of Wildlife Services are much more obscure."

So it should come as no big surprise that the USDA’s Inspector General is now auditing Wildlife Services. An investigation is long overdue. Ask the Secretary of Agriculture to fully support this investigation here.

coyote (National Park Service, photo by Sarah Stio)

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Jackie WoodallApr 7 2014 09:41 PM

They should have been investigated a long time ago. It is to easy for them to be paid big time money by the ranchers.

lora khatApr 8 2014 08:17 AM

What about non-predators, such as bison and horses?

Nick TrimbleApr 8 2014 01:26 PM

I wish that all of this senseless slaughter would just stop. These creatures do not deserve to die for no reason when there are much better, safer, and non-lethal methods to use and the farmers can live in peace with these animals. It's in their nature to hunt other animals for food like humans do. We hunt deer, pheasant, duck, and many other animals the same way these creatures do. The only difference why humans hunt and why animals hunt is that humans do it for fun and animals do it to survive.They are only doing what they have to to survive or to even feed their young if they have any and there are a lot of people who would rather kill a cow or a chicken than to let their family starve to death which is all these creatures are doing.

I think it wouldn't be to hard to learn to live in peace with animals the same way many peoples ancestors have before and the same way we do today. We live with dogs, cats, birds, lizards, snakes, fish, and many other animals and we live with them in peace. I have lived with dogs and a few other animals all of my life and all I want is to live with wolves together in peace and harmony the same way my Cherokee ancestors have many years ago and the same way that we should today. I am only sixteen but I hope to live with wolves for the rest of my life. We have always lived with animals that were once wild, so why shouldn't we live together with ones that are still wild? Just because these animals are not "domesticated" like dogs or cats doesn't mean they deserve to die and we can at least try to live with them. It's not impossible to live with an animal and there is proof of this in millions of homes all over the world.

We just need to either leave these creatures alone or we can try to live in peace with them. If you think about it humans were exactly the same way as these animals years ago before there was any kind of modern society. We would kill a cow without a thought because we were doing it to survive but now when a cow dies for any reason people want whatever killed the cow to be completely wiped out and forgotten unless they were used to make a hamburger even though we were the same as any predator today. I hope that these people see that there are better ways to stop predators from killing a farmers livestock and I hope that these predators are doing what they have to to survive the same way we did. All animals are wild in spirit even domesticated ones and even humans.

nina clausenApr 8 2014 05:48 PM

donĀ“t abuse, but save and protect the wildlife-animals for the future generations

kathy powellApr 9 2014 04:16 AM

I think what gets me the most,, is that we are breeding these animals to be put back inthere natural habitat.... and once again, we kill them off...They can investigate all they want, and like always nothing will happen to them, because money has the most power!!!!

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