Targeting Wildlife Services


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

This program has been known to kill more than a million native animals every year — including coyotes, bears, beavers, wolves, otters, foxes, prairie dogs, mountain lions and birds — without any oversight, accountability or requirement to disclose its activities to the public. The program has contributed to the decline of gray wolvesMexican wolvesblack-footed ferretsblack-tailed prairie dogs and other imperiled species during the first half of the 1900s, and it continues to impede their recovery today. 

Many of these animals are carnivores at the top of the food chain, critical 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 program. For a century Wildlife Services has destroyed these creatures on behalf of corporate 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.

The program often doesn't even try using nonlethal methods before shooting coyotes and wolves from airplanes or setting out traps and exploding poison caps indiscriminately — including in public areas — without any rules. Stories about Wildlife Services consistently describe a program routinely committing 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 this dark entity have criticized it as a subsidy for livestock interests.  


The Center’s past work includes legal action in Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon and Texas to protect animals from Wildlife Services. We’ve helped secure environmental analyses of the program’s killing of cormorants in Oregon and wolves in Idaho. We’ve also helped win agreements with several California counties to suspend their annual contracts with this federal program. In response to our advocacy in Oregon, Wildlife Services stopped killing ecologically important beavers and many other aquatic mammals.

Now it's more important than ever to watchdog and combat Wildlife Services, and we've been doing just that. In 2019 the Center and allies filed a sucessful lawsuit in federal court to stop Wildlife Services from shooting, trapping and poisoning Wyoming's wild animals, asserting that the program 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.

The next year Wildlife Services' kiling of native animals declined sharply: It killed 433,192 animals in 2020, compared to 1.3 million native animals in 2019. The red-winged blackbird is one example of a species with fewer individuals killed by Wildlife Services, with 30,836 killed in 2020 and 364,734 killed in 2019.

Check out our press releases to learn more about the Center's actions to save species from Wildlife Services.

Gray wolf photo by Jan Rose/Flickr