Wildlife Services: Critics target America's ‘rogue’ assassins who kill 3 million animals a year

A US government  programme to control wildlife is under fire for being inhumane

They say US critter assassins work in secret, quietly laying traps, lacing food with poison, sniping at targets from helicopters. Few people know exactly how the hits go down; the methods are largely hidden.

What is certain is that the US Department of Agriculture’s little-known Wildlife Services programme kills up to 3 million animals a year, mostly those deemed a nuisance but also some that agents kill by mistake, including endangered species.

Now, in a turnabout, the hunter is the target. A petition seeks to reduce the power of Wildlife Services and shine a light on its practices, claiming its agents have “gone rogue”, overstepping the mission to protect the public by killing indiscriminately.

There is no dispute that Wildlife Services plays a valuable role by eliminating invasive animals such as nutria and starlings. But critics have questions: How many is too many? Does the agency euthanise wildlife too often on behalf of farmers and ranchers without regard to ecosystems?

The petition filed by the Centre for Biological Diversity is not the first time that animal rights activists have squared off against Wildlife Services, but this time their coalition includes politicians who agree the agency is too secret and too deadly. Even some federal workers frown on it; staff at the US Fish and Wildlife Service dismiss Wildlife Services agents as “gopher chokers.”

“Wildlife Services is one of the most opaque and obstinate departments I’ve dealt with,” said Peter A DeFazio, a Democratic congressman from Oregon. “We’re really not sure what they’re doing. I’ve asked the agency to give me breakdowns on what lethal methods they’re using. They can’t or won’t do that. We’ve asked them to tell us what goes into their poisons. They won’t.”

Mr DeFazio and several colleagues requested a congressional hearing on the agency’s practices without success, so they pushed the USDA Inspector General to conduct an audit.

“The WS programme is inefficient, inhumane and in need of a review,” the lawmakers wrote in September to Inspector General Phyllis Fong. They said that the frequent killings of top predators, such as wolves, bears and coyotes, benefit “a small proportion of the nation’s private agriculture” and other interests.

Wildlife Services said it had nothing to hide. A spokeswoman said the bulk of its work was to protect humans.

“For example, we work with the aviation community to protect the public by reducing wildlife hazards at more than 800 airports,” spokeswoman Lyndsay Cole said.

“Wildlife Services’ efforts to protect threatened and endangered species are conducted in more than 34 states. It also operates the National Rabies Management Programme.”

The service has consulted with wolf-management agencies to “lessen the negative impacts of expanding wolf populations since the 1970s,” she said.

Cole said the agency’s kills were guided by a science-based decision-making model.

“This basically says they can use whatever methods at their disposal, whenever they want,” said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney for the Centre for Biological Diversity. “Just saying you comply with the law doesn’t make it so.”

Concerns about Wildlife Services spiked last year when agent Jamie Olson posted photographs on Facebook showing his dogs attacking and mauling a coyote caught in a trap.

In January, Wildlife Services trapper Russell Files was arrested in Arizona for intentionally snaring a neighbour’s dog in a trap. Before it was rescued, the animal lost 17 teeth trying to chew off its leg.

(c) Washington Post

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us