For Immediate Release, January 2, 2009
Brian Vincent, Big Wildlife, (604) 618-1030
Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity, (505) 534-0360
Groups Urge Agriculture Secretary Nominee to Halt
Mass Killing of Wildlife
More Than 100 Organizations Say Federal 'Lethal Control' of Bears,
Cougars, Coyotes, Wolves Is Cruel and Unnecessary
WILLIAMS, Ore.— Today, 115 conservation, animal protection, ranching, and faith-based organizations submitted a letter to Tom Vilsack, the Agriculture Secretary nominee, urging him to end the federal government’s systematic killing of wildlife, including wolves, coyotes, bears, cougars, and prairie dogs. Members of the coalition – comprised of Big Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Creation Care Study Program, Christians for Environmental Stewardship, Humane Society of the United States, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Sierra Club, and Ranchers for Rural Responsibility, among many others – said that each year the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services kills millions of wild animals, primarily on behalf of agribusiness. Coalition members said halting the agency's “lethal control” programs should be one of the nominee's first steps once he is confirmed as Secretary of Agriculture. (See complete list of signatories below.)
USDA Wildlife Services, a secretive federal agency that has largely avoided public scrutiny, employs a variety of cruel and often haphazard and indiscriminate methods to kill wildlife. Animals are shot from airplanes and helicopters, poisoned, gassed in their dens, bludgeoned after capture in steel leghold traps, strangled in wire snares, and pursued with hounds and then shot. Other animals, even family dogs and cats, are unintentionally injured or killed by agency actions. In 2007 alone, Wildlife Services killed 2.4 million animals, including 121,565 carnivores. The agency reported it spent more than $100 million in 2007 to kill wildlife, most of which was funded by taxpayers. Among those animals killed in 2007: 90,262 coyotes, 2,277 gray foxes, 2,412 red foxes, 2,090 bobcats, 1,133 cats, 552 dogs, 577 badgers, and 340 gray wolves.
“Wildlife Services has much blood on its hands. The agency is committing crimes against animals that make Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels look like doggy day care,” said Brian Vincent, communications director for the wildlife protection group Big Wildlife. “Most Americans have no idea their tax dollars are used to brutalize countless bears, cougars, wolves, and coyotes.”
USDA Wildlife Services kills carnivores and smaller animals such as prairie dogs to appease the livestock industry and kills a myriad of other animals such as blackbirds on behalf of other agribusiness enterprises. This winter, Wildlife Services killed all 27 wolves of a pack near Kalispell, Mont. In 2008, the agency wiped out seven wolf packs, pups and all, in the Big Sky state. In Oregon, Wildlife Services is coordinating with state officials to kill nearly 2,000 cougars. In New Mexico and Arizona over the past 10 years, Wildlife Services has killed and removed far more than the 50 or so remaining endangered Mexican gray wolves in the wild. The agency has perpetuated hostility towards many carnivore species, especially coyotes, by characterizing them as vermin or nuisance animals. Each year, the agency kills tens of thousands of coyotes.
“ ‘Wildlife Services’ ” is a perfectly Orwellian name for an agency that serves wildlife with cyanide baits, lead bullets, and steel leghold traps,” said Michael Robinson, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity in Silver City, N.M. Robinson is the author of a detailed history of the agency titled “Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West” (University Press of Colorado, 2005).
Robinson’s book recounts that Wildlife Services was founded in 1885 under a different name, and began its wildlife extermination program in 1915. In 1928, responding to criticism from wildlife biologists, the agency pledged not to exterminate any species and stopped using the word “exterminate,” substituting it with “control.” However, in 1945 the agency killed the last gray wolf in the western United States, in southern Colorado. In the 1960s, after Wildlife Services officials told Congress the agency would not exterminate wildlife, it wiped out red wolves from the southeastern United States, California condors in their namesake state, and blackfooted ferrets on the Great Plains, as well as the Mexican gray wolf in the Republic of Mexico, having gained permission from Mexican authorities. The last survivors of each of these species were captured, bred in captivity and subsequently reintroduced to save the species from extinction.
Members of the conservation and animal-protection group coalition that sent the letter to Vilsack said that Wildlife Services’ killing program ignores the importance of carnivores. As “keystone species," carnivores play a pivotal role in sustaining ecological integrity and preserving species’ diversity. For example, large carnivores regulate deer and elk numbers, as well as smaller mammal populations. Wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park has benefited bears, foxes, beavers and songbirds, among other animals. Conversely, ongoing Wildlife Services persecution of wolves continues to harm these and other wildlife species in the vast swaths of the West where wolves have not been permitted to recolonize.
Many non-lethal solutions are less expensive and more effective at reducing conflicts than killing, coalition members said. Ranchers who use guard dogs, llamas, burros, or who mix cattle and sheep report fewer or no predation problems. Nighttime penning, penning during lambing and calving season, and removing livestock carcasses from pastures also reduce conflicts. In addition, strobes and sirens are effective for preventing predation. Members of the groups said that monies spent on killing wildlife would be better used to educate and aid ranchers, farmers, and others to upgrade their fencing or assist them with utilizing non-lethal techniques. Eliminating subsidized domestic-animal grazing on public lands would sharply reduce encounters with carnivores, they said.
SIGNATORIES OF LETTER TO AGRICULTURE SECRETARY NOMINEE INCLUDE:
Action for Animals • Action for Animals Network • Alabama Wildlife Advocates • Alaska Wildlife Alliance • All-Creatures.org • Allegheny Defense Project • Alliance for Animals • Alliance for the Wild Rockies • American Lands Alliance • Animal Advocates of the Inland Northwest • Animal Defense League of Arizona • Animal Protection of New Mexico • Animal Protection Voters • Animal Welfare Institute • BARK • Bear League • Bear River Watershed Council • Big Wildlife • Biodiversity Conservation Alliance • Black Hills Mountain Lion Foundation • Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project • Born Free USA • Boulder-White Clouds Council • Buffalo Field Campaign • Californians for Western Wilderness • Cascadia Wildlands Project • Center for Biological Diversity • Center for Native Ecosystems • Christians for Environmental Stewardship • Chico For Animal Rights • Conservation Congress • Conservation Northwest • Conservation Science Institute • Cougar Fund • Creation Care Study Program • Eco-Eating • Ecological Conservation Organization • Environmental Protection Information Center • Footloose Montana • Forest Issues Group • Friends of McKay • Gila Conservation Coalition • Grand Canyon Trust • Great Old Broads for Wilderness • Great Plains Restoration Council • HEAL • Heartwood • Hells Canyon Preservation Council • High Uintas Preservation Council • Higher Ground-Animal Advocacy • Humane Voters of Arizona • In Defense of Animals • Jewish Vegetarians of North America • Kentucky Heartwood • Kind Choices • Kinship Circle • Klamath Basin Audubon Society • Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center • Lands Council • Last Chance for Animals Arizona • League of Humane Voters • Maine Animal Coalition • MassPAWS • Mountain Cats Trust • New Dawn Montana Farm Sanctuary • New Hampshire Animal Rights League • Newton County Wildlife Association • Northwest Animal Rights Network • Options for Southern Oregon • Orange County People for Animals • Oregon Cougar Action Team • Oregon Humane Society • Oregon Wildlife Federation • Pacific Biodiversity Institute • PEACE~People for the End of Animal Cruelty and Exploitation • Power of One Animal Rights Group • Prairie Dog Pals • Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) • Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility • Public Lands Without Livestock • Ranchers for Rural Responsibility • Restoring Eden • Rocky Mountain Animal Defense • Sheep Mountain Alliance • Sierra Club • Sierra Club Tehipite Chapter • Siskiyou Project • Soda Mountain Wilderness Council • Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance • Southwest Environmental Center • St. Louis Animal Rights Team • Student Animal Legal Defense Fund • The Humane Society of the United States • The Rewilding Institute • TrapFree Oregon • Umpqua Watersheds • Utah Environmental Congress • Vegetarian Advocates • W.O.L.F. Sanctuary • Western Nebraska Resources Council • Western Watersheds Project • Western Wildlife Conservancy • Whidbey Environmental Action Network • Wild Virginia • Wild West Institute • Wilderness Watch • Wildlands CPR • Wildlife Alliance of Maine • Wildlife Watch • Wildlife Watchers • WolfWood Refuge and Adoption Center • World Temperate Rainforest Network