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Your Tax Dollars at Work: The Federal Addiction to Killing Predators

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 5, 2015

 In this photo provided by a former Wildlife Services trapper, a dead coyote hangs in a neck snare in Nevada. Using aerial gunning, traps and poison, the agency frequently kills predators whether they have harmed livestock or not. In the process, it also has mistakenly killed thousands of "non-target" animals, from family pets to federally protected bald and golden eagles.

In this photo provided by a former Wildlife Services trapper, a dead coyote hangs in a neck snare in Nevada. Using aerial gunning, traps and poison, the agency frequently kills predators whether they have harmed livestock or not. In the process, it also has mistakenly killed thousands of “non-target” animals, from family pets to federally protected bald and golden eagles.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division is our leading cause of needless, and often brutal, predator deaths. Here’s part of an interesting new report from Tom Knudson and Reveal, the journal of the Center for Investigative Reporting :

The odds are good you have never heard of a small federal agency that goes by the curious name of Wildlife Services.

There’s a reason for that. The agency – which specializes in killing wild animals that threaten agriculture, especially predators – prefers to operate in the shadows.

That is a lesson I learned repeatedly while reporting a series of articles about Wildlife Services for The Sacramento Bee in 2012. Even basic information about where species were killed – and with what methods – was closely guarded and accessible only via the Freedom of Information Act. When I asked to observe Wildlife Services’ lethal predator control in action on public land in Nevada, the answer was unequivocal: No.

Think about that for a moment: Even the military allows reporters into the field on its missions overseas. Here at home, on land owned by all Americans, Wildlife Services does not.

“Wildlife Services is

one of the most opaque and least accountable agencies that I know of in the federal government, outside of highly classified programs,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., in the documentary film “Exposed: USDA’s Secret War on Wildlife.” “They are a world unto themselves. And that’s a world we are not allowed to see into.”

Today, the agency is back in the spotlight again.

In late 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General announced that it would audit Wildlife Services. Today, that audit still hasn’t been released. When it will come out and what it will find is anyone’s guess.

What is known is that the watchdog agency plans to take a hard look at the agency’s costly, sustained war on predators and the secrecy that surrounds it.

That killing is carried out with a vast arsenal of rifles, shotguns, small planes, helicopters, snowmobiles, leg-hold traps, neck snares and sodium cyanide poison. My reporting for the Bee found that it is often done in ways that are indiscriminate, excessive, inhumane and scientifically unsound.

Carnivores of all kinds are killed, from bobcats to mountain lions, gray fox to timber wolves. But the primary target is the wily coyote. Since 2000, Wildlife Services has killed more than 1.1 million coyotes, an average of 82,174 a year – or 225 a day.  Not only are many animals killed that have never harmed a sheep or cow – coyote pups are even gassed to death in their dens – the collateral damage to other species is high.

Read the full story here.

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