Wildlife Services has been a federal program for a century. It’s housed in the Department of Agriculture. They kill animals. Here’s a link to a disturbing piece in the New York Times (9/18/2016) titled “America’s Wildlife Body Count“ . Details on some of Wildlife Service’s animal killings from the story (animals from 335 species were killed), cited as during the most recent fiscal Year:
708,487 Red winged blackbirds Top method: Poison
1,290,815 European starlings Top method: Poison
16,652 Mourning doves Top method: Shooting
69,905 Coyotes Top method: Shooting from aircraft
20,777 Prairie dogs Top method: Shooting
Wildlife Services killed 3.2 million animals that year. Methods used in killing those 69,905 coyotes included snares, traps, M44 cyanide capsules, and shooting, from helicopters and fixed-wing planes. Among other species killed were 17 Sandhill cranes, 150 Blue winged teal, and 4,927 Cattle egrets.
According to a National Geographic story “This Government Program’s Job Is To Kill Wildlife” (2/12/2016), since 2000 the agency has killed about 2 million mammals and 15 million birds at a cost of about $100 million per year. There are serious questions about the quality of science used to justify the killing, and the NG story notes allegations of insufficiently trained staff. Predator Defense cites a different total of 34 million animals in the last decade.
There is some legitimate justification. Wildlife Services eliminates birds at airports if they pose a danger to aircraft (some aircraft have crashed because of birds sucked into engines), and to control feral hogs in the Southeast (a wild boar is a formidable and potentially quite dangerous animal). The bulk of the killing occurs in the West, acting on complaints by ranchers of predators killing livestock—not sure how the sandhill cranes and the blackbirds figure in.
Stories critical of the agency describe it as secretive and one described the WS site as difficult to use and implied this difficulty is purposeful, referring to getting official totals from the site. I browsed the site and could not easily find annual figures, but found plenty of information about animals as problems—who knew that black vultures can be a threat to livestock? I don’t mean satire here, because some of the issues really are problems, and what I mean is I detected a sort of adversarial tone on the site.
I finally found the fiscal 2014 Animals Killed Report. It’s titled “2014 Program Data Report G. Animals Dispersed, Killed or Euthanized.” Clicking on this gets you to a page and the actual report can be clicked on. It’s almost insanely detailed—646 pages. Browsing through it I learned that WS killed 158 Scissor Tailed flycatchers (a birder like me would kill to see one), 67 Mississippi kites, 63 snapping turtles (in North Carolina), 599 Black spiny tailed iguanas (in Florida), 143 deer mice, for a grand total of 2,713,570 animals and an additional 1,400,469 animals of invasive species. Those are suspiciously exact numbers.
Several tens of millions were “dispersed.” Methods used to disperse were listed without comment—but WTF?–including such as paintball, pyrotechnics, screamers and “physical actions hand/voice”. That is almost comic: do the personnel give marauding mynahs the finger? (Mynahs are pests in Hawai’i, apparently).
Those iguanas in Florida are perhaps legitimate pests, although I rather like the idea of Floridian diversity (a huge portion is “invasive” in origin). I am personally saddened by the killing of bears, cougars and wolves, and the killing methods seem almost barbaric—traps, poison, shooting from helicopters.
Some control involving killing is appropriate, but Animal Services seems to me to be an out-of-control agency. In reading about the agency, I found a lot of criticism of it being mired in bad science, accepting the virulent anti-predator mindset of many Western ranchers. There’s also an idea that it would be far less costly to compensate ranchers for livestock killed by wildlife—it does in fact occur but probably less often that ranchers think. A dead cow or sheep is available food and many predators are scavengers, so an animal killed by disease will likely have a carcass showing signs of predation which are actually scavenging.
Here are a couple more sources.
Wildlife Disservice (a PDF file from 2011) from the Humane Society. [This links to the PDf file, not to the Humane Society].
USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (Wildlife Service is housed here) APHIS site
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