The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a program to kill wild animals — around 1.5 million of them every year. Over the years it has killed 22 million animals, spanning 476 species. U.S. taxpayers fund the slaughter, but we aren’t allowed to know just what they’re paying for.
Formerly known as Animal Damage Control, the program, now called Wildlife Services, exists to subsidize private businesses like ranches. An example: a rancher who thinks wolves are attacking his herd can call in the government, and it will trap, poison, shoot from helicopters, or otherwise wipe out whatever wolves its personnel find nearby just as though it were a private company working for a customer.
The Center for Biological Diversity called on the USDA this month to put an end to the indiscriminate killing. Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center, called Wildlife Services “an out-of-control, rogue agency that shoots, snares and poisons more than a million native animals every year, many unintentionally — including at least 13 endangered species” like grizzly bears and wolves. In fact, it is responsible for making some species endangered, including gray and Mexican wolves, black-footed ferrets and prairie dogs.
Wildlife Services has operated in the shadows for decades. As Atwood said, the program isn’t governed by enforceable regulations that would “ensure transparency and accountability to the taxpaying American public.” It takes our money to kill our wildlife but refuses to tell us the details.
There are also no regulations requiring the organization to use the best available science or to take the most effective possible steps to avoid killing non-target animals, according to the Center. That is why Wildlife Services kills endangered animals, as well as people’s dogs and cats, with impunity. The agency admits to killing 4,000 non-target animals in the last 17 years; the real number may be much higher.
The Center’s petition to Obama calls for some obviously needed, common-sense reforms, like regulations requiring the application of the best science when deciding whether to attack animals; avoiding killing the animals it isn’t gunning for; treating animals ethically (that one will likely befuddle them); trying every nonlethal method to handle the problem before resorting to killing; and informing the public about its victims. If all that happened, maybe Wildlife Services’ crude methods wouldn’t lead to stomach-churning incidents like this one (see the photo), in which dogs attacked a coyote who was caught in a government leg-hold trap.
Reforming Wildlife Services is, for good reason, a popular cause. Project Coyote and the Animal Welfare Institute joined the Center in filing the petition, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund signed on in support.
Stay tuned: USDA is legally required to respond to the petition. In the meantime, please sign our petition to the USDA calling on it to create the regulations the Center has called for.
Photo credit: isafmedia