Wildlife Services’ War on Wildlife
Coyotes, mountain lions, bears, endangered condors and bald eagles, and other native wildlife are being slaughtered indiscriminately by a rogue federal killing agency known as Wildlife Services—a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The agency’s reckless behavior is destroying ecosystems and violating animal protection laws with inhumane and outdated kill methods. Though its mission is to help wildlife and humans coexist, it has become primarily a public-funded agency killing wildlife for private ranchers who believe their “livestock” is in competition with native predators for land. That is why the Animal Legal Defense Fund, together with a wildlife coalition, is working hard to eliminate Wildlife Services and its relentless hold over wildlife management.
A Wildlife Coalition
In 2013, the Animal Legal Defense Fund sent a letter to the board of supervisors for Sonoma County, California, regarding the county’s predator control contract with Wildlife Services. The letter warned the county that Wildlife Services was using taxpayer dollars on reckless kill methods, many of which—like cyanide and leghold traps—had been banned in the state. It also uses cage, steel-jaw and Conibear traps and wire snares that maim and trap animals who then may take several days to die. These cruel devices have even injured hikers and killed beloved pets. The letter urged Sonoma County to use the safer, nonlethal predator control program championed by neighboring Marin County instead. Marin’s program has proven more effective at humane wildlife management. Sonoma County agreed to put its contract on hold in order to conduct an environmental review, in accordance with California law.
In 2014, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, along with the Center for Biological Diversity, Project Coyote, National Resources Defense Council, Animal Welfare Institute and Mountain Lion Foundation, sent similar letters to two additional counties in Northern California: Humboldt and Mendocino. The next day Humboldt County supervisors put their contract renewal with the agency on hold pending further review.
In 2016, in response to a lawsuit brought by a coalition of wildlife groups including the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Mendocino County agreed to perform a full Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and suspend its contract with Wildlife Services. The coalition sued Mendocino County in 2014, and the lawsuit settled the following year with the country agreeing to comply with CEQA. But in June 2015, the county renewed its contract with Wildlife Services before completing the Environmental Impact Report. The coalition sued Mendocino County a second time in July 2015 resulting in this victory.
In July 2017, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, in conjunction with the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Project Coyote, the Animal Welfare Institute, and WildEarth Guardians, sued Wildlife Services for violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The agency has not analyzed the impact of its “Wildlife Damage Management” program on native California wildlife for almost 20 years, ignoring new scientific research and nonlethal wildlife management techniques that are more environmentally-friendly and can be more effective.
In August 2017, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and a group of wildlife protection groups after the coalition successfully challenged Monterey County, California’s contract renewal with Wildlife Services. The June 2016 lawsuit argued that the county’s renewal violated CEQA. CEQA mandates California agencies that oversee state-funded or state-implemented projects follow an environmental review process for projects that may affect the environment. Monterey County failed to conduct such a review, and the judge ruled that the county “abused its discretion by determining that CEQA review procedures did not apply.”
An Agency Out of Control
Wildlife Services has used shocking methods and killed more than 50,000 “non-target” animals in the past decade. Each year, they kill more than one million animals, at a cost of more than 100 million dollars. In 2014 alone, Wildlife Services killed 2.7 million animals, drawing public outrage. Since multiple employees were caught torturing dogs and coyotes in leghold traps, Congress has taken a closer look at this agency’s mismanagement. For example, in the past 14 years, Wildlife Services has spent one billion taxpayer dollars to kill more than one million coyotes and 15 million birds. And evidence and testimony from employees suggests the numbers of animals killed are far higher than reported. In fact, the agency allegedly kills a minimum of 100,000 native carnivores annually in an effort to prevent livestock predation, even though according to the USDA’s own numbers most “livestock” are killed by disease, illness, and birthing problems, not native predators.
Nonlethal Predator Control
With our tax dollars, our federal government is subsidizing a highly secretive, disorganized, and outdated agency that indiscriminately kills wild animals at the behest of corporate interests. To bring greater transparency to the problem, in 2013, the Animal Legal Defense Fund hosted a screening in Sonoma County that brought together ranchers, conservationists and animal advocates from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Project Coyote and others, to view Wild Things, a documentary produced by the NRDC. The film chronicles our taxpayer-funded war on native animals like coyotes and includes interviews with experienced ranchers who successfully use nonlethal methods of predator control to maintain their ways of life. The film also includes a former Wildlife Services agent who has spoken out against the agency.
Our native wildlife deserve a management program that is honest with the public, that allocates resources based on science—not politics—and that uses nonlethal methods to protect ecosystems. Native predators are essential to these environments and it is time for the modern world to coexist with animals who reside within our wild lands.