Working to assure the longterm viability of top carnivore wildlife in the west.




January 2, 2009 - Groups Urge Agriculture Secretary Nominee to Halt Mass Killing of Wildlife

More Than 100 Organizations Say Federal Lethal Control of Bears, Cougars, Coyotes, Wolves Is Cruel and Unnecessary

Williams, OR – Today, 115 conservation, animal protection, ranching, and faith-based organizations submitted a letter to Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom Vilsack urging him to end the federal government’s systematic killing of wildlife, including wolves, coyotes, bears, cougars, and prairie dogs. The coalition – comprised of Big Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Christians for Environmental Stewardship, Creation Care Study Program, Humane Society of the United States, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Sierra Club, and Ranchers for Rural Responsibility, among many others – said that each year the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services kills millions of wild animals, primarily on behalf of agribusiness. The coalition said halting the agency's lethal control programs should be one of the nominee's first steps once he is confirmed as Secretary of Agriculture. (See end of release for complete list of signatories)

USDA Wildlife Services, a secretive federal agency that has largely avoided public scrutiny, employs a variety of cruel, and often haphazard and indiscriminate, methods to kill wildlife. Animals are shot from planes and helicopters, poisoned, gassed in their dens, bludgeoned after capture in steel leghold traps, strangled in wire snares, and pursued with hounds or lured to bait station then shot. Other animals, even family dogs and cats, are unintentionally injured or killed by agency actions. In 2007, alone, Wildlife Services killed 2.4 million animals, including 121,565 carnivores. The agency reported it spent over $100 million lin 2007 to kill wildlife, most of which was funded by taxpayers. Among those animals killed in 2007: 90,262 coyotes, 2,277 gray foxes, 2,412 red foxes, 2,090 bobcats, 1,133 cats, 552 dogs, 577 badgers, and 340 gray wolves.

“Wildlife Services has much blood on its hands. The agency is committing crimes against animals that make Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels look like doggy day care. Most Americans have no idea their tax dollars are used to brutalize countless bears, cougars, wolves, and coyotes,” said Brian Vincent, Communications Director for the wildlife protection group, Big Wildlife.

USDA Wildlife Services kills carnivores and smaller animals such as prairie dogs, to appease the livestock industry (and kills a myriad of other animals such as blackbirds on behalf of other agribusiness enterprises). This winter, Wildlife Services killed all 27 wolves of a pack near Kalispell, Montana. In 2008, the agency wiped out seven wolf packs, pups and all, in the Big Sky state. In Oregon, Wildlife Services is coordinating with state officials to kill nearly 2,000 cougars. In New Mexico and Arizona over the past ten years, Wildlife Services has killed and removed far more than the 50 or so remaining endangered Mexican gray wolves in the wild. The agency has perpetuated hostility towards many carnivore species, especially coyotes, by characterizing them as vermin or nuisance animals. Each year, the agency kills tens of thousands of coyotes.

"'Wildlife Services' is a perfectly Orwellian name for an agency that serves wildlife with cyanide baits, lead bullets, and steel leghold traps," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Silver City, New Mexico. Robinson is the author of a detailed history of the agency, titled Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West (University Press of Colorado, 2005).

Robinson’s book recounts that Wildlife Services was founded in 1885 under a different name, and began its wildlife extermination program in 1915. In 1928, responding to criticism from wildlife biologists, the agency pledged not to exterminate any species and stopped using the word “exterminate” (substituting “control”). However, in 1945 the agency killed the last gray wolf in the western United States (in southern Colorado). In the 1960s, after telling Congress it would not exterminate wildlife, Wildlife Services wiped out red wolves from the Southeast, California condors in their namesake state, and blackfooted ferrets on the Great Plains – as well as the Mexican gray wolf in the Republic of Mexico (having gained permission from Mexican authorities). The last survivors of each of these species were captured, bred in captivity and subsequently reintroduced to save them from extinction.

The conservation and animal protection groups said that Wildlife Services’ killing program ignores the importance of carnivores. As "keystone species," carnivores play a pivotal role in sustaining ecological integrity and preserving species’ diversity. For example, large carnivores regulate deer and elk numbers, as well as smaller mammal populations. Wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park has benefited bears, foxes, beavers and songbirds, among other animals; conversely ongoing Wildlife Services persecution of wolves continues to impact these and other species of wildlife in the vast swathes of the West through which wolves have not been permitted to recolonize.

Many non-lethal solutions are less expensive and more effective at reducing conflicts than killing, the coalition said. Ranchers who use guard dogs, llamas, burros, or even mixing cows with sheep report lower or no predation problems. Nighttime penning, penning during lambing and calving season, and removing animal carcasses from pastures also reduce conflicts. In addition, strobes and sirens are effective for preventing predation. The groups said that monies spent on killing wildlife would be better used to educate and aid ranchers, farmers, and others to upgrade their fencing or assist them with utilizing non-lethal techniques. Eliminating subsidized domestic animal grazing on public lands would sharply reduce encounters with carnivores, they said.

"Wildlife Services is the 'Grim Reaper' of the federal government. The main 'services' the agency provides wildlife are pain, suffering, and death," said Vincent.


Click here to read Coalition letter to Agriculture Secretary nominee
Click here to view Wildlife Services 2007 kill chart
Click here to read about Wildlife Service killing methods

Action for Animals • Action for Animals Network • Alabama Wildlife Advocates • Alaska Wildlife Alliance • • Allegheny Defense Project • Alliance for Animals • Alliance for the Wild Rockies • American Lands Alliance • Animal Advocates of the Inland Northwest • Animal Defense League of Arizona • Animal Protection of New Mexico • Animal Protection Voters • Animal Welfare Institute • BARK • Bear League • Bear River Watershed Council • Big Wildlife • Biodiversity Conservation Alliance • Black Hills Mountain Lion Foundation • Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project • Born Free USA • Boulder-White Clouds Council • Buffalo Field Campaign • Californians for Western Wilderness • Cascadia Wildlands Project • Center for Biological Diversity • Center for Native Ecosystems • Christians for Environmental Stewardship • Chico For Animal Rights • Conservation Congress • Conservation Northwest • Conservation Science Institute • Cougar Fund • Creation Care Study Program • Eco-Eating • Ecological Conservation Organization • Environmental Protection Information Center • Footloose Montana • Forest Issues Group • Friends of McKay • Gila Conservation Coalition • Grand Canyon Trust  • Great Old Broads for Wilderness • Great Plains Restoration Council • HEAL • Heartwood • Hells Canyon Preservation Council • High Uintas Preservation Council • Higher Ground-Animal Advocacy • Humane Voters of Arizona • In Defense of Animals • Jewish Vegetarians of North America • Kentucky Heartwood • Kind Choices • Kinship Circle • Klamath Basin Audubon Society • Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center • Lands Council • Last Chance for Animals Arizona • League of Humane Voters • Maine Animal Coalition • MassPAWS • Mountain Cats Trust • New Dawn Montana Farm Sanctuary • New Hampshire Animal Rights League • Newton County Wildlife Association • Northwest Animal Rights Network • Options for Southern Oregon • Orange County People for Animals • Oregon Cougar Action Team • Oregon Humane Society • Oregon Wildlife Federation • Pacific Biodiversity Institute • PEACE~People for the End of Animal Cruelty and Exploitation • Power of One Animal Rights Group • Prairie Dog Pals • Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) • Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility • Public Lands Without Livestock • Ranchers for Rural Responsibility • Restoring Eden • Rocky Mountain Animal Defense • Selkirk Conservation Alliance • Sheep Mountain Alliance • Sierra Club • Sierra Club Tehipite Chapter • Siskiyou Project • Soda Mountain Wilderness Council • Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance • Southwest Environmental Center • St. Louis Animal Rights Team • Student Animal Legal Defense Fund • The Humane Society of the United States • The Rewilding Institute • TrapFree Oregon • Umpqua Watersheds • Utah Environmental Congress • Vegetarian Advocates • W.O.L.F. Sanctuary • Western Nebraska Resources Council • Western Watersheds Project • Western Wildlife Conservancy • Whidbey Environmental Action Network • Wild Virginia • Wild West Institute • Wilderness Watch • Wildlands CPR • Wildlife Alliance of Maine • Wildlife Watch • Wildlife Watchers • WolfWood Refuge and Adoption Center • World Temperate Rainforest Network