Last week, the Jackson County Budget Committee voted to accept the 2015-16 budget. There are probably many reasons to be unhappy about the budget—not the least of which is the commissioners voting to give themselves big, fat pay raises. But as an animal welfare advocate and environmentalist, I’m particularly upset that despite dozens, if not hundreds, of emails, letters, personal appeals and testimonies urging the committee not to include $61,002 in funding for Wildlife Services, they did it anyway.
People who value wildlife, wild lands and healthy ecosystems hate Wildlife Services (WS). This little known branch of the USDA was created to appease ranchers and kill wildlife who bother livestock. Really – it’s that straightforward. Wildlife Services was created by the federal government and exists today solely to appease ranchers, livestock owners and hunters. If you’ve spent any time in the west, you know that ranchers hate wildlife, especially predators. Hunters hate predators, too, for similar reasons. The reasoning boils down to this: Ranchers raise animals so that they make money by selling and killing those animals. Hunters get their jollies killing animals. Ranchers and hunters don’t want animals killing the animals that they want to kill themselves.
Wildlife Services operates very much like a private company in that they respond to phone calls and come deal with your problem. When you have something go wrong on your property, you either have to deal with the problem yourself or have someone come in and fix the problem for you. But generally a property owner will have to pay a professional who fixes your problems (think plumbers, roofers, etc.). Not so with Wildlife Services. When someone who believes they have a problem animal around calls Wildlife Services, the killers show up and kill pretty much any animal they see – all free of charge to the property owner. Why? Because you and I and all taxpayers pay for them. And in Jackson County, we pay twice: with our county and federal taxes.
Personally, I don’t want to see animals killed. I prefer education and nonlethal methods of controlling human-animal conflicts. While Oregon law allows livestock owners to kill predators that create problems, this should not be the role of the government. Certainly, Jackson County’s budget committee members should have respected the wishes of the many voters opposed to the activities of Wildlife Services in our county. But instead they kowtowed to the loud outcry of a handful of people in the county who have used Wildlife Services. By the way, two of the county commissioners (who sat on the budget committee) have personally used Wildlife Services. They benefitted from the program, and then they voted to use public money to continue to fund a program that “benefits” only a few, including themselves. That seems like a conflict of interest to me, but I’m not a lawyer.
The budget will be reviewed again next year, and I urge all conversation voters and wildlife advocates to speak against the county continuing its contract with Wildlife Services. If more of us speak out, maybe they’ll listen next year. And if they don’t, then we can speak out again when we vote.