Does the United States Wildlife Services program ring a bell for anyone? The program runs under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and supposedly resolves wildlife interactions that pose a threat to public health, safety, agriculture, property, and natural resources.
Yet the numbers tell a very different story.
Every year, U.S. Wildlife Services kills 1.5 million animals, and that’s not even the worst part – the program is not required to be held accountable by the public, therefore this shocking death rate and their actions are often kept hidden from public view.
The program’s own figures reveal that over 22 million native animals have been killed since 1996, with around 4,000 nontarget native animals killed annually which includes at least 13 endangered species like the Mexican grey wolf, wood stork, Hawaiian stilt and Louisiana black bear, reports The Center for Biological Diversity.
“The secretive killing — which includes aerial gunning, traps and exploding poison caps — has gone on for decades with little public oversight or rules requiring the use of the best available science or techniques to reduce the deaths of nontarget animals,” said The Center for Biological Diversity in a recent press release.
One reaction to this news is simply – WTF.
“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,” said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity and the primary author of the petition.
If you haven’t yet heard, one of Wildlife Services’ recent actions to resolve wildlife conflicts includes dropping 2,000 dead and poisoned mice in Guam to rectify an invasive snake problem – a population of brown tree snakes that now numbers two million. The project, which the Department of Interior and the Department of Defense have joined, is costing $8 million, reports NPR.
Aside from the exorbitant price tag, another question remains: how will this project ensure that other animals aren’t going to ingest the poisoned mice?
So far, this question has yet to be answered in recent news reports on the incident.
Wildlife Services has been engaged in a number of these “kill” projects over the years, yet there are plenty of humane ways to deal with human-wildlife conflicts, so why hasn’t the government sought these out?
One and a half million animals is beyond unacceptable, and the death toll should never have been allowed to reach this height in the first place. Perhaps a case can be made for extermination in some instances, but ultimately, 1.5 million animals, which includes some endangered species too, is inexcusable.
It’s about time the government step in and fix this broken wildlife management system.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Project Coyote, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund have certainly had enough of Wildlife Services, and together they have recently submitted a petition to the Obama administration to “reform the federal wildlife-killing agency.”
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the petition urges the agency to:
- Develop regulations to ensure use of the best science when determining whether action should be taken against animals;
- Avoid killing nontarget animals, including endangered species;
- Ensure ethical treatment of targeted animals and exhaustion of nonlethal means; and
- Require release of reliable information to the public about the animals it kills.
The organization also reports that a response to the petition is “required by law,” and so hopefully we will soon hear back from the USDA and get an answer as to why 1.5 million animals are wiped off of U.S. land every year without any of us knowing a thing about it.
Update: According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the Office of Inspector General (OIG) has committed to including an audit of Wildlife Services in their FY14 plan after they heard from caring citizens and U.S. Representatives DeFazio (D-Ore.), Campbell (R-Cali.), and Peters (D-Cali.), who sent a letter to OIG requesting an audit of Wildlife Services’ predtor control program.
Image source: Wikipedia Commons