In 2013, the Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services killed over four million invasive and native animals. That number has fluctuated wildly for the past couple of decades. This has raised some red flags, particularly for two congressmen and the Center for Biological Diversity.
Representative Peter A. DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, has been asking the agency about what kind of poisons they use. He has not received any answers and his concerns extend from the secrecy of the agency to the dangers posed to humans and non-targeted animals by their methods. DeFazio has said that the Wildlife Services is obstinate and opaque. He admits that Congress really as no idea what the agency is doing.
Around the year 1999, the agency’s kill number was four million. In 2001, the number plummeted to 1.5 million and hovered around there for about six years. By 2008, the total had shot up to five million then went back down to three million for the following four years. Now that the number is back up passed four million, critics are seeking an explanation as to why.
Some of the victims last year were 419 black bears, 866 bobcats, 75,326 coyotes, three eagles, 3,700 foxes, 12,186 prairie dogs, 973 red-tailed hawks and 528 river otters. All were either poisoned, shot, snared or trapped. Those are high numbers, especially considering that the agency’s primary purpose is the eradication of invasive species like the Argentinian tegus, an unfriendly lizard that has found a new home in South Florida, the infamous nutria from South America, an oversized swamp rat that really likes Louisiana and the swarming European starlings that seem to enjoy roosting in urban settings.
A petition was filed in December by the Center for Biological Diversity. The document demands an explanation from Wildlife Services regarding the exact reasons for each native animal killed, who benefited from this action and the method used. The petition calls the agency “rogue” and out of control. The document asks the Obama administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to set a new policy of operation that is based upon ecological science. The Wildlife Services would then be required to show how the removal of animals has an effect on the balance of their habitats.
An excellent example of this occurs in the Northeast. When the red wolf is eliminated, coyotes are able to proliferate. The presence of coyotes affects the numbers of foxes. When there are fewer foxes, there are more deer mice, which the fox like to eat. Deer mice carry and spread ticks.
Despite the existence of a list of the killed animals, there is not much data detailing each death. Another issue are the mistakes made that lead to non-targeted animals dying. Little information is offered regarding these all too often occurrences. Now, there are increasing requests citing the need for investigating how the agency operates.
Carol Bannerman is the Wildlife Services spokesperson. According to her, the agency responds to other government agencies requesting resolutions to conflicts involving humans and wildlife. Bannerman goes on to say that increases in damages done by wildlife create more assistance requests. When a farmer or rancher requires help, they pay for half of the cost of killing the animals that are causing a threat to their livelihood. The agency kills native species in large numbers, often solely based on the farmer, rancher or homeowner’s perception of threat. There has yet to be any explanation provided regarding the large fluctuations in total kill numbers.
Part of the problem may stem from the fact that Wildlife Services is no longer part of the Department of the Interior. Now that it is part of the Department of Agriculture, the agency has had to change its priorities. Perhaps moving them back to a place where ecological concerns are more prevalent would help to mitigate the problems seen in the past years. Perhaps then the Wildlife Services would not be obligated to kill four million animals in one year.
By Stacy Lamy