In 2012, the Sacramento Bee reported a three part series about a little known branch of the United States Department of Agriculture that would help to inspire the Puppycide Database Project. The journalists writing the series uncovered that the small USDA sub-agency, called "Wildlife Services", was tasked with killing millions of animals each year - ostensibly to control predator and pest populations for ranchers and farmers. Wildlife Services was originally called "Branch of Predator and Rodent Control", but existed for decades without an official title when it was first founded in 1915 specifically to exterminate wolves (which, incidentally, are now an endangered species).
The methods that have been used to kill animals by Wildlife Services have been haphazard, to say the least. USDA employees:
"[...] dropped strychnine out of airplanes, shot eagles from helicopters [and] laced carcasses of dead animals with Compound 1080 [a deadly poison]."
The agency targeted coyotes, wolves, mountain lions and grizzly bears.
As early as the 60's there was significant pushback from the scientific community to limit the USDA's killing spree. In 1964 a group of scientists told the Secretary of the Interior that:
"The program of animal control has become an end in itself and no longer is a balanced component of an overall scheme of wildlife husbandry and management"
It would take nearly a decade of hearings before Richard Nixon banned the use of poison for federal predator control in 1971. It was a fleeting gesture that would be immediately rendered irrelevant by Gerald Ford following Nixon's resignation from the Presidency. The poison ban stayed in place, however sodium cyanide would be exempt from the ban and could be used by Wildlife Services once again. And so the killings continued at a pace.
Since its inception Wildlife Services has killed tens of millions of animals. Recently the agency reported it was responsible for the death of 2.7 million animals in the year 2014 alone. However, many deaths at the hands of Wildlife Services employees remain unreported.
The 2012 investigative report by the Sacramento Bee discovered that USDA employees had killed endangered species and covered up such incidents when they occur:
In 2003, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources received a tip that a golden eagle – one of the largest birds of prey in North America and a species protected by three federal laws, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act – was struggling to free itself from a leg-hold trap in the remote Henry Mountains.
Roger Kerstetter – an investigator with the state wildlife division – found the trap, but no eagle. Nearby, though, he spotted feathers poking out of the sand. "They turn out to be the neck feathers of a golden eagle. And one of them comes out with a .22 bullet attached to it," Kerstetter recalled.
On the trap was another clue. It was stamped: Property of the U.S. Government. "At that point, we started doing our homework," he said. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also joined the investigation. In federal court two years later, a Wildlife Services trapper pleaded guilty to killing the eagle and paid a $2,000 fine. "We never did find the bird," Kerstetter said. "He claimed he just buried it."
The killing of the Golden Eagle was unique only in that it was investigated by another agency. Accidental deaths of endangered species are routinely kept under wraps by Wildlife Services supervisors. Former USDA employee Gary Strader told the Bee that he had personally killed and buried several endangered birds:
"I called my supervisor and said, 'I just caught a golden eagle and it's dead. He said, 'Did anybody see it?' I said, 'Geez, I don't think so.'. He said, 'If you think nobody saw it, go get a shovel and bury it and don't say nothing to anybody.' "
"That was not the only eagle I snared while working for Wildlife Services. I will not say how many. But the one (my supervisor) told me to bury was the first one, and I figured that was what was supposed to be done all the time, so that is what I did."
Overall, agency records show that 12 golden and bald eagles have been killed by mistake by agency traps, snares and cyanide poison since 2000 – a figure Strader believes is low.
"I would bet my house against a year-old doughnut there were more than 12 eagles taken, way more. You cannot set a trap, snare or (cyanide poison bait) in habitat occupied by eagles and not catch them on occasion."
Endangered animals were not the only unintended fatalities of the USDA's mass killing program. The Sacramento Bee found that over 50,000 animals (including 1,100 dogs) had been killed by Wildlife Services from 2000 to 2012. Even this number, which is exceptionally high compared to the puppycide statistics of the largest municipal police forces, should be viewed with skepticism.
Animal Rights blog "The Dodo" reviewed Wildlife Services fatalities for 2014 and found in 2014 alone the USDA was claiming responsibility for the deaths of 1,0001 "feral or free-ranging" dogs and cats as well as 16 "pets or livestock". With this in mind, either Wildlife Service's killing of domestic breeds has drastically accelerated, or some manipulation of the reported numbers has occurred. The Dodo believes it is the latter.
The Dodo quotes Rex Shaddox, a former Wildlife Services employee, who was interviewed for the film Exposed: USDA's Secret War on Wildlife:
"Specifically with household pets, when we caught those pets, we were told to take their collars off. We were told to get rid of the collars. We were told to bury the dogs, and we were told to never report that."
Finally, there are human victims of Wildlife Services as well:
"Since 1987, at least 18 employees and several members of the public have been exposed to cyanide when they triggered spring-loaded cartridges laced with poison meant to kill coyotes. They survived – but 10 people have died and many others have been injured in crashes during agency aerial gunning operations since 1979."
The USDA's Wildlife Services continues to kill millions of animals every year using dubious pseudo-scientific claims to justify a tax-payer funded pest removal service for Big Agriculture. Wildlife Services strikes members of the Puppycide Database Project as an affront to a diverse array of individuals and stake-holders:
- animals rights activists
- pet owners
- those opposed to corporate welfare
- those opposed to the indiscriminate use of poison & firearms
- families who live in rural areas where their children might happen upon a USDA spring-loaded cyanide trap
- those opposed to the use of tax payer funds for dubious "environmental" programs
Ending the Wildlife Services program is an issue with a bipartisan appeal. Wildlife Services has been slaughtering animals for over 100 years now - 100 years too long.