Targeting Wildlife Services


An agency known as “Wildlife Services,” a unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has long been secretive for a reason: Its actions are incredibly, unacceptably and illegally brutal and inhumane to animals, from familiar wildlife to endangered species — and even people's pets.

This agency has been killing as many as 3 million native animals every year — including coyotes, bears, beavers, wolves, otters, foxes, prairie dogs, mountain lions, birds and other animals — without any oversight, accountability or requirement to disclose its activities to the public. The agency contributed to the decline of gray wolves, Mexican wolves, black-footed ferrets, black-tailed prairie dogs, and other imperiled species during the first half of the 1900s, and continues to impede their recovery today.

Many of these animals are carnivores at the top of the food chain and have a tremendous benefit to overall ecosystem health. They include endangered species and, largely, animals that agribusiness interests consider undesirable — as well as many animals that aren't intended targets of the agency. The century-old Wildlife Services — which has reportedly killed 32 million native animals since 1996 — destroys these creatures on behalf of such interests without explaining to the public what it's doing or where, the methods it's using, on whose behalf it's acting, or why. It frequently doesn't even attempt to use nonlethal methods before shooting coyotes and wolves from airplanes, or laying out traps and exploding poison caps indiscriminately — including in public areas — without any rules. Stories about Wildlife Services consistently emerge describing an agency that routinely commits extreme cruelty against animals, leaving them to die in traps from exposure or starvation, attacking trapped coyotes, and brutalizing domestic dogs. Many people who know about the agency have criticized this dark, secretive entity as a subsidy for livestock interests.  


To protect defenseless animals from Wildlife Services and begin to restore the natural balance of ecosystems, in 2013 the Center filed a comprehensive petition for rulemaking with the Department of Agriculture, which is supposed to oversee Wildlife Service's actions, demanding the development of a regulatory code — something that every other agency maintains — to reform the agency and bring it in line with all of the nation's laws, policies and values.

Other past work includes legal action in Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon and Texas to protect animals from Wildlife Services, which helped secure environmental analyses of Wildlife Services' killing of cormorants in Oregon and predators like wolves in Idaho, as well as an agreement in Mendocino County, Calif., to suspend its annual contract with this federal program.

Now, with Trump in office, it's more important than ever to watchdog and combat Wildlife Services, and we've been doing just that. In May 2017 the Center and allies filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop Wildlife Services from shooting, trapping and poisoning Idaho's wild animals, asserting that the agency wrote itself a broad, statewide authorization to kill native predators without completing a legally required “environmental impact statement” covering the potential consequences of its actions or revealing those potential consequences to the public, as the National Environmental Policy Act mandates.

Gray wolf photo by Jan Rose/Flickr