Wildlife Services and Its Eternal War on Predators
Wildlife Services overwhelmingly targets invasive species and nuisance birds: Over 40 percent of its 2.7 million kills in 2014 were European starlings. But it’s the slaughter of native predators — mostly to defend livestock and revenue-generating game animals like deer, often on public land — that outrages environmentalists. In 2014, Wildlife Services exterminated 796 bobcats, 322 wolves, 580 black bears, 305 cougars, and 1,186 red foxes. And that’s nothing compared to coyotes. That year, the agency killed 61,702, one coyote every eight and a half minutes.
For all its consulting and outreach work, however, the agency’s fundamental approach remains unchanged. Though Wildlife Services’ directives advise specialists to recommend nonlethal methods first, the instructions aren’t requirements, and former trappers say the directives hold little sway. What’s more, the agency doesn’t generally view nonlethal management as its duty. “We get asked all the time, ‘Why doesn’t Wildlife Services use nonlethal more?’ ” says Stewart Breck, a biologist at the National Wildlife Research Center. “Part of the answer is that we do, and people don’t know about it. And part is a paradigm that says it’s not the responsibility of Wildlife Services to use those tools. Specialists may recommend them, but it’s up to the livestock owner to implement them.”
Need help killing the coyotes menacing your lambs? We’ll put out traps. Want to erect an electric fence? We’ll offer advice, but the wire’s coming from your wallet.
Officials claim they lack capacity to deploy nonlethal measures on a large scale. “It would be expensive and impractical to have our limited numbers of Wildlife Services experts dedicated to daily implementation,” wrote Suckow and Clark. But killing takes money and manpower, too: In 2014, Idaho paid Wildlife Services $140,000 to gun down 31 wolves — $4,600 per wolf. Zack Strong, wildlife advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, sees that disconnect as illogical. “More producers are beginning to ask, ‘Why shouldn’t Wildlife Services help us prevent conflicts from happening in the first place?’ ”
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Photo courtesy of Thomas D. Mangelsen.