Wildlife Services (WS). It sounds like a group that provides services to wildlife, doesn’t it? Like disposing of leg-hold traps or curtailing hunting? Does your opinion change if I tell you it is part of the federal government — specifically the USDA?
How about if I add that the first part of WS’s mission, according to its own website, is to help “protect a healthy environment for people”?
Even more illuminating: its name used to be “Animal Damage Control.” That is a much more accurate description of what WS does.
So here’s the real deal: Wildlife Services runs like a business, with human property owners and ranchers as its clients. It turns a profit on its work by charging clients for its services and adding that income to its coffers on top of steep public subsidies. Its job is to keep wildlife out of people’s way and to protect their property (usually livestock). WS generally displays no interest in the rest of its mission: protecting a healthy environment for fish and wildlife. To the contrary, it tortures wildlife.
Whistle-blower Gary Strader told Fox News how WS “protects a healthy environment” for coyotes. Employees set out leg-hold snares to catch coyotes — even those with no interest in or history of attacking sheep or other livestock. When they catch one, they set dogs on it to rip the trapped animal apart. “You let your dogs fight with them,” Strader said. “That was part of the job.” His supervisor would watch a coyote’s violent demise and laugh.
As Congressman John Campbell, R-Calif., said, “This agency has become an outlet for people to abuse animals for no particular reason.”
Indulge me as I emphasize one more time: Fox News relied on two federal Congress members (one of whom is a Democrat!) for its conclusion that the “brutal approach by Wildlife Services is part of a culture of animal cruelty that has long persisted within an agency that uses taxpayer money to wage an unnecessary war on wildlife.”
Ah, now I see Fox’s angle: it’s not necessarily concern for wildlife that is winding it up, but the use of taxpayer dollars, to the tune of $57.9 million in fiscal year 2008. For 2010, according to USDA documents obtained by the Kansas City Star, that amount was $126.5 million (and that is just the taxpayers’ portion — it doesn’t include what WS’s clients paid for services rendered). In 2010 the agency killed over four million wild animals.
The Democrat that Fox News relied on in its story, Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., has been fighting to defund Wildlife Services for over 25 years. He said he doesn’t “understand why it should be the responsibility of the federal government to attempt to — very ineffectively and, in fact, probably detrimentally — remove wildlife that has not been implicated in attacks on people and cattle.”
Ineffectively and detrimentally indeed. WS is responsible for knocking ecosystems out of whack by decimating predator populations.
“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,” writes Fox’s Melissa Waage.
Leg-hold traps are not the only trick up WS’s sleeve. Its methods “include shooting from helicopters and airplanes [known as aerial gunning], trapping, poisoning, and denning (poisoning pups in their dens). Trapping and poisoning injure or kill ‘non-target’ animals such as deer, birds, and pets — even endangered species.”
The kicker: the Humane Society of the United States reports that there are effective “non-lethal methods to protect livestock and crops, and evidence that killing predators doesn’t even solve the problem,” because in response to losing members of their packs, many species have more babies.
People and the press outted WS long ago, and negative coverage of the organization persists. A 2010 article in New York Magazine focused on WS’s war on geese — apparently the agency isn’t content exterminating only predators. A year later The Kansas City Star also described WS’s brutal round-ups of peaceful geese who couldn’t fly because they were molting and without their flight feathers. WS packed them tightly into crates and gassed them to death. In 2012 The Sacramento Bee exposed the agency’s killing of members of endangered species like golden eagles and its subsequent cover-up.
In the same article the paper found that since 2000, the agency had killed 50,000 non-target animals, including not only federally protected and endangered animals but also more than 1,100 dogs, including pets. WS has exposed the public to cyanide. Its crusade to shoot animals from helicopters, known as “aerial gunning,” has killed ten people and injured many others. The executions are indiscriminate.
Wildlife Services upsets quite a few people, so it tries to keep its activities out of public view. The acting California State Director said, “we pride ourselves on our ability to go in and get the job done quietly without many people knowing about it.” Reporter Tom Knudson of The Sacramento Bee observed that WS does not allow journalists to view its activities — something even the military permits.
A former WS district manager knows why the agency hides from the public, calling its public profile “smoke and mirrors.” The reality: “It’s a killing business. And it ain’t pretty.”
When a WS employee mistakenly kills a non-target animal like a family pet, the agency directs him not to report the incident (though the organization is required to report such killings), to bury the pet, and to throw away the collar. “That’s how we were taught to do it,” said former employee Rex Shaddox.
Wildlife Services is bad news for all creatures great and small. Let’s defund it and use the money to protect wildlife instead of exterminating it.
Photo credit: www.ecologiablog.com