A recent report gave the federal program that helps control predatory wildlife around the country a generally clean bill of health, finding “no systemic problems” with vital parts of its operation – a finding that animal rights groups found preposterous.
The report was on the Wildlife Services program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has repeatedly come under fire from animal rights and other groups for actions that result in the inadvertent deaths of some animals. The issue has been a major one in areas where predatory animals such as coyotes live near ranching operations.
Wildlife Services has state offices throughout the country and has two main regional offices: Raleigh, N.C., and Fort Collins, Colo.
The inspector general for the Department of Agriculture undertook its review in part because of complaints from outside groups. The program has also attracted the attention of members of Congress and has received extensive media attention. The inspector general said it has received hotline complaints and letters from the public about Wildlife Services using “indiscriminate methods” to kill animals – resulting in the wrong animals dying – and for methods that wounded but didn’t kill animals as intended.
And during its review, the inspector general did witness such deaths and injuries.
The inspector general’s office found seven coyotes were still alive in snares, and were subsequently euthanized. The inspector general also observed three unintentional deaths: two javelinas – a hoofed mammal sometimes mistaken for a wild pig – were trapped by snares, and a porcupine was killed by a foothold trap.
“Our observations of both the field specialists’ activities and WS’ aerial hunting operations revealed no systemic problems with the process or manner with which WS conducted its predator control program,” the report concluded. It said field specialists complied with federal and state requirements and that Wildlife Services has “broad authority in conducting its program.”
The inspector general also noted support the program has from property owners: As one property owner put it, the inspector general said: “WS guys are an absolute necessity for our business. The number of sheep they save is huge and we cannot function without them.”
The inspector general did note several record-keeping and data-entry problems, which Wildlife Services said it would work to correct.
They don’t keep accurate records. They don’t record what they do. They vastly under-report the number of animals they kill.
Amy Atwood, Center for Biological Diversity
The results were met with derision by animal rights organizations, which have long criticized an agency that “spends millions of taxpayer dollars each year to kill nearly 100,000 native carnivores” but that has a “complete lack of transparency,” in the words of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy organization.
“Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right,” said Elly Pepper, a wildlife advocate for the organization. “The inspector general was just looking into the legality of Wildlife Services’ activities. … The fact that they concluded the agency didn’t break any laws shows how broad its authority is.”
Amy Atwood, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, an advocacy organization, said she was “incredulous” the inspector general reached the conclusion it did, particularly given the problems with information and data-gathering it cited.
“They don’t accurately record their activities,” she said of Wildlife Services. “That goes right to the heart of the conclusions.”
Pam Boehland, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, said Wildlife Services was working to correct the data problems the inspector general pointed out but that overall the report was an endorsement of the work the program was doing.
“Our mission is to resolve conflicts between humans and wildlife,” she said. “And sometimes, those practices aren’t always understood.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story inaccurately said “county” in the first sentence. It should be “country.”