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UPDATED -- Wildlife Services: Scientific Consensus and Public Consensus Converge

Andrew Wetzler

Posted July 18, 2013

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An important paper was published in Conservation Letters last month, “License to kill: reforming federal wildlife control to restore biodiversity and ecosystem function.”  Authored by seven biologists from different colleges and universities around the country, the essay signals a key convergence -- public outrage at Wildlife Services’ widespreadred fox killing of wildlife, including wolves, mountain lions, foxes, and coyotes, is meeting scientific consensus that the federal agency’s actions are ecologically unnecessary and counter-productive.

The public outrage has been apparent for some time.  Indeed, just last week an internal email obtained by Tom Knudson at the Sacramento Bee revealed that even the current Administrator of the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS), of which Wildlife Services is a part, complained that “not a week goes by without a scandal in [Wildlife Services].”

As the scientific community has become increasingly aware of Wildlife Services’ practices, their concern has only grown.  As the Conservation Letters paper points out, many of the animals killed by Wildlife Services

…are important species in their native ecosystems (e.g., ecosystem engineers such as prairie dogs and beavers, and apex predators such as gray wolves). Reducing their populations, locally or globally, risks cascading negative consequences including impoverishment of biodiversity, loss of resilience to biotic invasions, destabilization of populations at lower trophic levels, and loss of many ecosystem services that benefit human society directly and indirectly

And yet, despite these ecological consequences, the agency’s own evaluation of its actions is woefully inadequate. Indeed,

[Wildlife Services] conducts little or no population monitoring of lethally-controlled mammals nor of their alternate natural prey, no studies of whether WS control is additive with other causes of mortality, and no studies of how control affects populations of non-target species that are unintentionally killed. Moreover, WS operations have never been the subject of an independent cost-benefit analysis, and their internal economic analyses do not adhere to guidelines used by most federal agencies, nor do they consider lost ecological or economic values of the predators themselves (Loomis 2012).

Luckily, alternative, non-lethal methods exist to manage livestock and largely avoid the conflicts between cattle, sheep, and predators that are so often the occasion for lethal control by Wildlife Services.  NRDC has documented these methods and is helping some communities to put them into practice.  And, as we show in our new film, Wild Things, many ranchers are beginning to use alternative techniques and are seeing how successful they can be.  And yet, as the paper also points out:

As long as private livestock producers can externalize the costs of predator losses via government-subsidized predator control, they will have little incentive for responsible animal husbandry techniques, i.e., reduce stocking levels, clear carcasses and after-births quickly, confine herds at night or during calving/lambing, install fencing and fladry, or adopt numerous other non-lethal preventive methods to avoid depredation (Shivik et al. 2003).

We need to reform Wildlife Services.  You can take action here.

UPDATE:  In an incisive editorial, the New York Times has now endorsed both Congressional hearings and a Department of Agriculture's audit of Wildlife Service.  Read the full editorial here.

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Andrea FrancoJul 3 2013 03:28 PM

Please stop killing animals they where put on this planet for a reason, its unethical and has tremendous consequences.

Dusty StepanskiJul 3 2013 03:36 PM

Seems like more attention is given to the wants of special interest groups more than to scientific groups or the wants of the majority of people. The majority of people do not want to see animals gone from public lands! Public lands should not be treated like private property to be used for free for raising cattle or trapping!

Michael AlthouseJul 3 2013 03:52 PM

Scientific evidence and public opinion are being ignored in favor of a few self serving individuals. These animals are an important part of the habitat and should remain there.

Eric St JamesJul 3 2013 03:57 PM


Leslie griffinJul 3 2013 04:08 PM

True beautiy needs to remain in nature our wild life needs to live without out fear in their home ❤

miss lee thomasJul 3 2013 04:52 PM

They know they have to admit they have had it all wrong for years.x

rachel chaputJul 3 2013 05:54 PM

Please stop killing animals they where put on this planet for a reason, its unethical and has tremendous consequences.

william lawsonJul 3 2013 06:02 PM

Why would any human being be involved in something like this, hopefully you will pay for this somewhere in your lives

Judy TaylorJul 3 2013 06:35 PM

Stop killing the wildlife! We've got more people than we can feed or support! Leave the animals alone...they're the only ones with any sense on this planet! People are the ones destroying it.

Linda DeckerJul 3 2013 07:00 PM

What if we were the ones being hunted? Is that humane?
Quit hunting and killing animals. They Have Feelings and Familys too. They know how to be loyal and love better than any human.

Linda DeckerJul 3 2013 07:03 PM

How would it be if humans were the ones being hunted!
This needs to stop. Animals feel love and have families.
They are a part of this world too. They are more loyal than alot of humans.

I hope the ones doing this get what will be coming to them.

udith EssexJul 3 2013 07:06 PM

Please stop killing our wildlife - part of the commons. I don't want to be England!

Richard FaltonsonJul 3 2013 07:18 PM

Bumper sticker seen recently in Billings, MT: "Smoke a pack a day." With a graphic of cross hairs on a wolf. I find this very sad. We need to do a better job of educating the public.

Pam G. FraserJul 3 2013 09:16 PM

Another Federal Agency bought out by greed and corruption, and certainly not serving the animals. I think the ranchers, et al. have some pretty powerful lobbyists behind this. After all, wild animals interfere with their cattle and sheep grazing on OUR so-called Public Lands.

Lorrie OliverJul 3 2013 09:49 PM

We need to stop this slaughter.

LJ HillJul 3 2013 10:17 PM

There is no true valid reason for the hostility towards wolves in their natural environment....because even if ranchers 'claim' livestock are threatened, Federal programs reimburse any loss....although this loss is very low in comparison. The West has millions of acres....difficult to believe wolves are really very much of a threat!!

Marybeth SharpJul 4 2013 12:15 PM

Stop killing innocent wild animals. They are the beautiful and wonderful creatures that inhabit this planet. STOP THE KILLING!

Veronica AlleyneJul 4 2013 02:37 PM

When it comes to nature & the environment if it ain't broke, don't fix it

Caryn HylandJul 4 2013 08:47 PM

Never , Never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way. mlk jr & my sentiments exactly.
Action is needed against the Dept of wildlife. They should be run out of town, & off this planet.

April SilvermanJul 4 2013 11:21 PM

Animals are not ours to kill, use, or eat! Some are more intelligent than many humans--like elephants, whales, and possibly pigs and chickens who are at least smarter than dogs, proven in testing.

Those reckless, immoral cowboys and greedy, sadistic ranchers who murder tens of thousands of my wildlife certainly are ignorant mammals. GET SHEEP AND HERDING DOGS. STOP murdering MY--MY BEAUTIFUL--WILDLIFE . I want my grandchildren to hear the howl of a wolf, see a coyote run, watch bears fish or eat berries--not in old pictures, but in the wild. They are not yours to kill. This planet and its wildlife are on loan to us to preserve for future generations. I don't give a damn for your livlihood, just as you don't really give a damn for your sheep or cattle. If the wolf paid you, would you care about how the cow or sheep suffered and died? NO!! You only care about your damn wallets!

Shame on you! You are not men. Strong men have compassion. You're cowards! Fight a wolf without poison or guns or arrows, or befriend it.

Bruce SunriseJul 7 2013 02:09 AM

When are people going to start to share the land call USA with the wild life and the ecosystem that kept it healthy way before the White man and spanish invaded. Ranchers think just because you buy the land you have a right to destroy the natural places that the wildlife has lived. Most of all any time the US Goverment gets into the mix you get a bigger mess and the money flows to the corruption.of more goverment.

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