Legally Brief: The Government’s Secret War on WildlifePosted by Stephen Wells, ALDF's Executive Director on September 26, 2013
A secretive government agency out of control, killing for the sake of killing… not a far-fetched fiction, but rather the reality within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services. The stunning documentary Wild Things from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) chronicles our national taxpayer-funded war on native carnivores like coyotes. The film includes interviews with experienced ranchers who choose nonlethal methods of predator control as well as a former Wildlife Services agent who has spoken out against the agency. ALDF, NRDC, Project Coyote, and others joined together for a screening this week in Sonoma County. Guests enjoyed a free screening and complimentary vegan fare.
For decades, wildlife advocates have known that Wildlife Services gets away with its lethal agenda, including reckless and illegal actions, because it is shrouded in secrecy and lacks proper oversight. Worse, its war on wildlife is also wildly ineffective, making the carnage meaningless even if one supports the program. For example, the U.S. spends approximately 100 million dollars of taxpayer money every year to kill 100,000 predators—mostly coyotes—yet the coyote population has tripled in recent years.
We possess the tools and technology to resolve conflicts in a more effective and non-lethal manner. It is time for Wildlife Services to modernize or be dropped from wildlife management programs across the country. Our ecosystems are at stake and we must ask ourselves whether we share the earth, or merely want to exploit it until it is damaged beyond repair.
Here in Sonoma County, California alone, Wildlife Services kills hundreds of large predators like mountain lions, bobcats, bears, foxes, and coyotes every year. Indiscriminate methods used by Wildlife Services have killed over 50,000 non-targeted animals—like dogs—in the U.S. in just over a decade (and those are reported numbers, the real toll may be much higher). The agency regularly deploys cage, steel-jaw, and “Conibear” traps and wire snares, which maim and trap animals who may take several days to die. These cruel devices have injured hikers and killed pets, not only in wild or rural areas, but in populated suburban landscapes too. Although California has banned many of these methods, including cyanide and leg-hold traps and the use of dogs to hunt predators, Wildlife Services is often exempted.
Unlike Sonoma, neighboring Marin County does not employ Wildlife Services for predatory animal control. Instead, Marin uses a non-lethal program that has allowed some ranchers to see predation-losses decrease by over 60% in the past 13 years, at about one-third of the cost. Last month, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) sent a letter to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and Sonoma County Agriculture Commissioner, urging them to terminate their predator control contract with Wildlife Services. We also asked that appropriate environmental review and resource allocation be undertaken, in accordance with California state law, prior to further killing by Wildlife Services. But more importantly, we want to expand on Marin’s model for non-lethal alternatives and show that they can be used effectively across the country.