I try to stay informed about animal issues, and I have been aware that government agencies often kill wildlife on behalf of local and state governments, as well as ranchers. But I didn’t know the name of the agencies conducting the kills or the extent of their work. I was recently pointed to an investigative report conducted by the Sacramento Bee that outlines the activities of an innocuous sounding agency: Wildlife Services, a division of the US Department of Agriculture. After some reading and deeper research I think it would be more accurately called Wildlife DIS-service.
This agency was created in 1915 to exterminate wolves at the behest of beef producers. Today the agency uses a variety of truly horrible methods—aerial gunning, leg-hold traps, body grip traps, poisoned bait carcasses, and spring-loaded sodium cyanide cartridges—to kill animals on public lands, private land and even in residential areas. While the agency claims that the targets of these lethal methods are nuisance animals, the truth is that killing is indiscriminate and thousands upon thousands of target and non-target species are killed each year. The species killed include wolves, coyotes, bobcats, cougars, muskrats, wild pigs, raccoons, black bears, porcupines, beavers, river otters, deer, elk, great blue herons, and dozens of other bird species, including Golden Eagles, a species that is supposed to be protected by three different federal laws, endangered species like wolverines, and dogs –more than 1,100 family pets since 2000 have been killed by Wildlife Services. Environmental groups estimate that Wildlife Services kills more than 1.5 million animals each year, many of them endangered species.
Lawsuits, petitions, and proposed changed to legislation are currently circulation through state and federal channels. The Center for Biological Diversity recently petitioned the USDA to take a hard look at reforming Wildlife Services. Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity and the primary author of the petition, states, “Wildlife Services is 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,” said. “Despite calls for reform by members of Congress, scientists and the public, Wildlife Services is still operating without the kind of legally binding regulations that ensure transparency and accountability to the taxpaying American public, creating a free-for-all that should have been ended decades ago.”
Although the agency claims to have protective measures and extensive monitoring and reporting requirements, many instances reported in the Sacramento Bee article show otherwise.
So how does this impact us, here in the Rogue Valley? Well, as a federal agency, Wildlife Services is supported by our tax dollars – that’s my money and yours. But Wildlife Services impact us even closer to home. Come back tomorrow to learn about the agency and its relationship to Jackson County.