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Elly Pepper’s Blog

Why Is the Wildlife Services Administrator So Proud?

Elly Pepper

Posted June 27, 2014

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                                                 (C) Fish and Wildlife Service

Kevin Shea, the Administrator of the USDA’s Animal Plants and Health Inspect Services, which houses “Wildlife Services” — a program responsible for killing millions of animals a year —released a letter defending his agency yesterday.

According to Shea, while he has had a few opportunities over the last few years to counter negative publicity regarding his agency, he hasn’t “been able to write as much to defend Wildlife Services as [he'd] like . . .”

My question is: what’s there to defend?

While Administrator Shea asserts that false information has been used to vilify his agency, the information he cites is actually true.

For example:

  • The letter asserts that predators represent a very small percentage of the animals Wildlife Services removes each year. While it’s true that the number of predators Wildlife Services does not match the number of birds it kills, this often-repeated statement obscures the real problem: Wildlife Services’ own reporting indicates that it kills 98% of the big carnivores like wolves, foxes, bears, and mountain lions that it interacts with.
  • The letter asserts that Wildlife Services is “fully transparent about all of [its] work—both lethal and nonlethal.” But examples showing otherwise are endless. A recently leaked audit shows that Wildlife Services recently lost $12 million dollars—it simply can’t find it.  NRDC’s report Fuzzy Math shows that "most economic analyses of predator control done by Wildlife Services ...are inconsistent with economic analysis guidelines used by most federal agencies," and often contain fundamental accounting errors. And, as they’ll tell you themselves, even Reps. DeFazio and Campbell have repeatedly been denied information they’ve requested from Wildlife Services.
  • The letter states that Wildlife Services is comprised of wildlife professionals who are “fully accountable to Congress and the public, comply with all laws, and are dedicated to preserving native ecosystems.” He can’t be talking about Jamie Olson, who posted pictures on Twitter (taken while on official duty) of his hunting dogs mauling a coyote caught in a leg-hold trap or Russell Files who intentionally captured his neighbor’s dog in multiple leg-hold traps, also while on duty. And he can’t be talking about the supervisors of the former Wildlife Services employees in films like NRDC’s Wild Things and Predator Defense’s Exposed, who were instructed not to report nontarget kills—in the words of one, to “shoot, shovel, and shut up.” So who is he talking about exactly?
  • The letter asserts that the agency's National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) devotes the majority of its research funding to the development or improvement of nonlethal wildlife damage management tools and methods. However, NWRC’s accomplishments report for 2013, lists only 2 studies focused on nonlethal predator control out of its 15 research projects for 2013 and less than 10 research papers on the subject out of over 100.
  • The letter asserts that the numbers of animals killed are a very small percentage of their overall populations in the United States and that Wildlife Services is not endangering any native wildlife population in our country. But that’s not true. For example, this spring, a Wildlife Services employee killed a Mexican Wolf. There are only about 83 Mexican wolves left in the wild, so the removal of each and every individual has a huge impact on the population. Moreover, since when is whether a federal agency is killing so many animals that it is endangering the entire population the relevant test of the ecological harm they may be causing?

To be fair, NRDC agrees that some of the work Wildlife Services does—such as invasive species control—is important to preserving our natural resources. But when it comes to their predator control program, you’ve got to wonder…based on all of the above, what Shea is so proud of?

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Dawn BracknellJun 27 2014 04:34 PM

It makes me sick to know that my tax dollars are helping to kill these animals! It sounds like we need to clean house in the Wildlife Services, and put in people who will work to protect our Wildlife, and really care about all creatures. I don't think most Americans are aware of what is happening to our wildlife at the hands of the people assigned to protect them!!!!!

Marina KaminisJun 27 2014 07:44 PM

Killing animals for no purpose is bad enough, but being cruel into the bargain is unconscionable. Knowledge of the instances cited above should be cause for dismissal. What's wrong with those who are supposed to be public servants, yet have no sense of compassion?

Ed SchuzJun 28 2014 11:10 AM

Why hasn't NRDC done more to take on USDA Wildlife Services. I almost never hear anything about this from nrdc?

Elly PepperJun 30 2014 10:43 AM

Hi Ed -- NRDC has a very long history of working on Wildlife Services and while we cannot email our members all the time with updates, rest assured we are hard at work. Our work takes many forms: In Montana, we have projects at ranches to test nonlethal methods of predator control and we are working to create a wolf conservation stamp, the proceeds of which would go to nonlethal methods of preventing predator-livestock conflicts. In DC, we finally convinced the USDA Office of Inspector General to conduct an audit of Wildlife Services, which will provide us with much-needed information on the agency, and we are working closely with several congressional offices to draw attention to Wildlife Services, including by introducing a bill reforming the agency. In California, we are trying to revise the California Fish and Game Commission’s predator control regulations and pressuring counties to cancel their contracts with Wildlife Services—including recently enacting a snare ban in LA County. We filed an amicus brief in the Ninth Circuit to fight a legal decision in a case brought by WildEarth Guardians that could preclude future legal challenges to Wildlife Services’ programs. Finally, we created a film on Wildlife Services called Wild Things, which we have been showing across the country, as well as a report on the agency’s faulty economic analyses called Fuzzy Math. Please continue to check Switchboard for updates and information on all of these activities!

Karin KimballJul 2 2014 12:54 PM

I can't find a way to comment on your blog about Satao not dying in vain. I am curious to know if anywork is working in Florida to enact legislation to ban all ivory trade here. If so, how do I get involved?
Thank you!
Karin Kimball

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