Torturing Statistics: Wildlife Services' Big Carnivore Kill Rate is 98%
Posted July 11, 2012 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places
"Just to give tons of raw data to people would not be smart. Torture numbers long enough and they are going to confess to anything."
That’s what Jeffrey Green, Western Regional Director of USDA-Wildlife Services, said recently when scientists with the American Society of Mammalogists asked Wildlife Services to release some basic information about its predator control program.
The first thing I thought when I heard Green’s comment was, “That’s a great line. I’ll have to remember that one.” The second thing I thought was, “Waaaiiittt…isn’t torturing numbers what you guys do all the time?”
You see, at the very same debate where this exchange occurred, Wildlife Services once again repeated its misleading soundbite of a statistic that I’ve come to call “the 80 percent fallacy.”
As agency spokesperson Carol Bannerman put it in the Sacramento Bee on June 25, “An objective review will show that more than 80 percent of Wildlife Services interactions with wildlife is solved with nonlethal methods..." (The line turned up most recently in this story in Monday's Oregonian.) This is what I'm calling
The 80 Percent Fallacy: Wildlife Services’ own reporting indicates that it kills 98% of the big carnivores like wolves, foxes, bears, and mountain lions that it interacts with. Yet when asked about predator control, agency spokespeople routinely repeat an out-of context statistic that obscures the agency’s overwhelming focus on lethal control of predators.
Out of context, the 80% number is pretty accurate. In the context of predator control, it’s very misleading. Bannerman was referring to the full suite of Wildlife Services activities. As we have described before, Wildlife Services is engaged in some types of work that does not emphasize killing animals to control them. For example, the agency “disperses” millions of birds of many different species each year.
But the Sacramento Bee story, the conversation with the mammalogists, and the concerns of groups like NRDC are focused on mammals, specifically predators, and specifically predators killed at the behest of the agriculture industry or big game interests. Not the full suite of Wildlife Services activities.
When we take a look at some of these species, including species of bears, foxes, wolves, mountain lions, and bobcats, the picture looks very different. Again, this is based on the numbers publicly reported by Wildlife Services on its website.
In fiscal year 2011, ninety-eight percent of Wildlife Services’ interactions with these predators ended in a dead predator. Wildlife Services killed nearly every large predator it interacted with.
That number is much harder to defend. Why does the government continue to kill public wildlife for private interests? Why the emphasis on lethal methods such as traps, poisons, and expensive aerial gunning when there are effective, non-lethal methods available? I wouldn't want to have to defend this deadly and wasteful record on predator control either. Perhaps that's why Wildlife Services doesn't even try.
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