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Animal Abuse, Torture, and Dead Pets: Fox News Shines Spotlight on Wildlife Services

Melissa Waage

Posted March 13, 2013

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The Sacramento Bee and Voice of San Diego have both published exposes about the abuses of the Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services agency, which spends federal tax dollars to kill wild carnivores in the tens of thousands annually, largely to benefit private agribusiness. Now Fox News is on the case as well.

Fox reporter Cristina Corbin has uncovered a "regular practice" of animal cruelty, like making hunting dogs rip coyotes apart, at Wildlife Services. As Rep. John Campbell (R-CA) put it to Fox, "This agency has become an outlet for people to abuse animals for no particular reason...It is completely out of control. They need to be brought into the 21st century."

Corbin also documents the accidental, and sometimes maliciously intentional, deaths of hundreds of pets from Wildlife Services poisons and traps.

Of course, such behavior is not official Wildlife Services policy, and the agency is quick to disavow the actions of trappers who abuse wildlife or cause the horrific deaths of family pets. But with the proliferation of such reports, and Wildlife Services' generally phlegmatic response to them, one has to wonder at what point "rogue" field operatives simply become "typical" field operatives.  As Corbin reports,

A management source within the USDA claims Wildlife Services employees are told not to document the accidental killings of pets if it can be avoided.   

"They are told to get rid of the leash and bury the dog," said the source, who spoke to on condition of anonymity.

The source also alleged that in some instances in Arizona, California and Minnesota, the killings of pets are intentional – often with the knowledge, approval and encouragement of upper level Wildlife Services management.

This type of bad behavior by Wildlife Services operatives is not only a concern for those worried about animal welfare. It raises red flags about the extent to which Wildlife Services is considering or managing the broader environmental impact of killing tens of thousands of wild carnivores each year.

As I've mused before,

Pet poisonings--and the agency’s typically dismissive response to them—are just symptoms of a backwards approach to predator management at Wildlife Services that is putting our environment at risk of more profound harm.

Wildlife Services’ predator control work kills tens of thousands of animals each year. Removing large numbers of predators from the landscape can have very real, very damaging effects on the land, increasing erosion, sending prey populations out of control, and removing important ecosystem services that healthy predator populations provide. (NRDC scientist Sylvia Fallon breaks it down here.) 

The fact that family pets are being killed, and that this is treated as a matter of course, is an indication of how indiscriminate and thoughtlessly managed some of Wildlife Services’ predator control methods are. Do you think the same agency that waves away questions about the safety of explosive cyanide traps is doing the math on its broader environmental impact?

The real tragedy here is that Wildlife Services' emphasis on lethal control, and the collateral damage it creates, is simply not necessary. NRDC's new film Wild Things follows ranchers who are succesfully adopting common sense, non-lethal techniques for co-exisiting with wild carnivores. Check out screenings near you, and in the meantime, tell the U.S. Department of Agriculture that this approach is ridiculous. In fact, USDA can go a long way right now by choosing to end the use of the worst of the worst killing techniques, deadly predator poisons.

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Donna BackesMar 17 2013 12:54 AM

Please stop the slaughter of all creatures and pets

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