USDA's Wildlife Services continues to kill millions of animals each year
Twenty months ago, the Puppycide Database Project published an article about a little-known agency within the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that has, for the last 100 years (under various names), waged a campaign to kill animals that have been declared pests by agricultural special interest groups. Those pests have at times included wolves, coyotes, bears, mountain lions, beavers, foxes, eagles and even occasionally domestic dogs. Over the last 30 years, the agency has even exposed over 20 human beings to cyanide while another 10 people were killed as part of accidents within the agency's "aerial gunning" operations (in which employees would use a helicopter to fly over large expanses of terrain and shoot firearms at animals below).
The current unoffensive name of that agency is Wildlife Services, and its website contains the following, vague description of the Wildlife Services mission:
"The mission of USDA APHIS Wildlife Services (WS) is to provide Federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist. WS conducts program delivery, research, and other activities through its Regional and State Offices, the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) and its Field Stations, as well as through its National Programs."
In our last article that focused on Wildlife Services, we noted that the then-latest available data provided by the agency included an estimate of the total number of animals killed as part of its core mission in 2014: 2.7 million. A substantial amount of the content in our coverage was based on investigative reporting by the Sacramento Bee, whose exposure of Wildlife Services went national and drove calls to reform. Many in the animal welfare community hoped that this public scrutiny - the first public exposure Wildlife Services has experienced in years - would serve to at least reduce the mind-boggling number of animals killed by the agency at the behest of agribusiness and at tax-payer expense.
Following the release of the latest death estimates by Wildlife Services, this hope appears to have been premature.
According to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity, from 2014 to 2015, Wildlife Services estimates that the total number of animals killed by WS employees each year increased by half a million, from 2.7 to 3.2 million. It is unclear how accurate these estimates are, because they are self-reported by Wildlife Services and un-audited. The Sacramento Bee's reporting uncovered evidence that Wildlife Services supervisors encourage employees to file fraudulent reports related to the killing of animals or to skip filing such reports at all - for example when the animal killed is a member of a protected and/or endangered species.
Comprehending the death of millions is difficult except in the most abstract sense. None of the estimates that Puppycide Database Project has seen or created involving deaths of animals at the hands of police come close to the raw numbers of the USDA's Wildlife Services. Despite even the flimsy justification for Wildlife Services' killing campaign, the wholesale trapping and poisoning methods employed are unable to focus on any specific species or set of species. When introduced into the environment at a scale wide enough to destroy millions of animals, the environmental fallout is massive, but little understood. Despite a significant public interest in protecting endangered species and habitat, little to no research has been conducted investigating the role that Wildlife Services plays in habitat destruction & the death of endangered species.