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Wildlife Services – another reason to dislike the USDA

Posted by tinako on April 21, 2012

This morning I was preparing for tomorrow’s tabling with RAVS at the University of Rochester’s Earth Day environmental fair, and I wanted to learn more about our diet’s direct effect on wildlife, since I mention it on my display and someone asked me for details last time and I was unsure.

Specifically, I remembered Colleen Patrick-Goudreau discussing the wild animals killed by a government agency on her podcast #59, “Eating for World Peace.”

Cougar Heads, killed by USDA to protect cattle

So I found the chart where the USDA’s Wildlife Services lists the number of wild animals killed per year.  Here is the page with access to all the years (it’s the bottom chart), and here are the totals for 2011, all 36 pages of death totaling nearly 4 million wild animals killed, almost all intentionally.  Listed alphabetically for convenience, pick out your favorite animal and see how many of them Wildlife Services used your tax dollars to kill last year.

2011 highlights of intentional kills: 400 cougars, nearly 5,000 cardinals, over 10,000 crows, 535 great blue herons, almost 2,000 iguanas, 3,000 meadowlarks, 17,000 prairie dogs, 6,500 each ravens and squirrels, 7,000 vultures, 365 wolves, 288 robins, 1,200 bobcats, over 80,000 coyotes, a great horned owl, 1,700 swans, and 12 American Bullfrogs!

Then there are the unintentional kills, snaring the wrong animal because snares and cyanide mines aren’t just barbaric, providing horribly painful deaths, they also kill indiscriminately.  So, oops, by mistake our government tortured to death 418 river otters, 121 opossums, 217 peccaries (native pigs), 226 porcupines, 21 bunnies, 664 raccoons, 163 skunks,17 wild turkeys, 223 snapping turtles, and a thousand rats.

I’m not sure which is worse, the misguided deliberate violence or the pointless accidental violence.

Let’s not forget about dogs and cats. They have rows for feral dogs and cats, but none for domestic.  Does that mean that of the 1,600 cats and dogs killed (mostly intentionally), not one had a collar on?  Given this statistic, you can make up your own mind when you hear the stories that Wildlife Services is notorious for denying a trap is theirs when a pet is found in one, or covering up the deaths of pets when they find them, either by discarding the collars or burying the bodies.

Bizarre data point: They deliberately killed over one and a half million starlings, but they also killed four individuals by mistake.

I do find one thing somewhat in their favor on this chart.  Overall, they “disperse” 10 times more animals than they kill.  So as many animals as they do kill, for some kinds of animals they do a lot of non-lethal work, and killing is not their main tool.

I looked around at the USDA W.S. site for an explanation of why they were killing all these animals, but couldn’t find anything I trusted.  Then I stumbled onto a letter of complaint written by the American Society of Mammalogists which seems credible and gives some history.  This letter begins by saying they believe W.S. should be primarily concerned with invasives, and that when native species are in conflict with humans, W.S. should first try “prevention, avoidance, public education and non-lethal control,”  and methods should be verified to be useful.

Instead, with particular reference to certain native species of mammals, especially native carnivores and rodents, we see from WS a heavy and inflexible emphasis on lethal control and a lack of scientific self-assessment of the effects of WS’s lethal control programs on native mammals and ecosystems.

They go on to say that there is an obvious emphasis on killing perceived agriculture pests (confirming what one would expect from the Department of Agriculture), specifically ranchers, but also more recently the service seems to have taken on the role of killing predators such as wolves in order to increase desirable species for humans to hunt, such as elk.

Predator Defense considers this war on wildlife to be a major issue:

We’re working to eliminate Wildlife Services’ lethal and indiscriminate predator control program. It wastes millions of taxpayer dollars using methods that are ineffective, cruel, and also hazardous to humans and pets.

Check out Predator Defense’s fascinating page for more about what’s happening and why.  Another site addressing this issue is Wild Earth Guardians.

I went to look on Wikipedia’s Wildlife Services page, because often they will address both sides of controversial issues and give me new sources to look into, but it looked like the text came right from W.S.’ public relations department, with only one sentence acknowledging another side to the story, that “Wildlife damage management can engender controversy, often around the use of lethal controls.”

Wondering what other organizations think of USDA W.S., I found the following Audubon links:

I also came across the Humane Society’s Humane Wildlife Services.  If you’re in conflict with an annoying animal tenant or neighbor, HSUS gives you tips to handle the problem or select a humane wildlife control company.

Peace.

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