Wildlife Services’ War on Wildlife

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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 The agency’s reckless behavior is destroying ecosystems and violating animal protection laws with inhumane and outdated kill methods.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. ALDF 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. ALDF urged Sonoma County to use the safer, nonlethal predator control program championed by neighboring Marin County instead. Marin’s program reduced predation by more than 60% and 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, ALDF, 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.

An Agency Out of Control

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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 2013 alone, Wildlife Services killed four 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

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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, last year, ALDF 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. NRDC’s documentary 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 agentwho 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.

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