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




Every year, a little known federal agency called, Wildlife Services, slaughters millions of animals – all with taxpayer dollars. Wildlife Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, started in 1886 ostensibly to help people control bird damage to crops. In 1914, it expanded its lethal “services” to carnivores. Its programs were intended to address domestic animal loss, property damage, and threats to human health and safety. In reality, its activities are government-sanctioned killing sprees.[1]

Wildlife Services has had several names in the last century including “Animal Damage Control”, “Predatory Animal and Rodent Control”, and the “Biological Survey.”

Wildlife Services employs a variety of barbaric techniques to exterminate coyotes, bears, cougars, wolves, bobcats, and other carnivores. Animals are shot, poisoned, gassed, burned alive, caught in leg hold traps and neck snares, decapitated, pursued by hounds, helicopters, and planes, and lured to bait stations where they are shot. Other animals, including dogs and cats, are unintentionally killed by agency traps, snares, and poisons.
[2] In 2006, the agency killed: 87,877 coyotes, 2,579 gray foxes, 2,542 red foxes, 2,532 bobcats, 1,184 cats, 512 dogs, 511 badgers, 278 gray wolves, and 265 arctic foxes.

Though the use of such measures would normally be considered violations of animal cruelty statutes, Wildlife Services agents are legally permitted to use an arsenal of inhumane killing methods in its war on wildlife.
Last year, Wildlife Services slaughtered a grand total of 102,345 carnivores.

Wildlife Services kills wild animals for such offenses as wandering onto private property, eating flowers or pet food, digging in gardens, and frightening people – all of which could be easily addressed by non-lethal measures. Some, such as wolves and cougars, are “culled” to boost “game” species for hunters. Carnivores, demonized for centuries as vicious predators, are often targetted out of hysteria largely perpetuated by the federal government, ranching and other development interests, and state agencies. Usually, it is the irresponsible behavior of humans that leads to conflicts with wildlife. Tragically, carnivores often pay the fatal price. For example, ranchers who leave animal carcasses in pastures or home owners who neglect to properly secure garbage essentially lure carnivores and condition the animals to seek out food where people live. Such conflicts are likely to increase as humans further encroach into wildlife habitat.

Wildlife Services executed 2.7 million wild animals in 2004 – one animal every 12 seconds – because they were deemed a” nuisance” to ranchers, farmers, or municipalities. Most taxpayers have no idea a significant portion of the federal wildlife management budget – about $100 million each year – is devoted to exterminating wildlife. The agency wastes taxpayer dollars by spending far more to kill carnivores than the actual damage the animals cause. It costs over a $100 for each animal killed (sometimes this price can be up to $2,000) while damages incurred by the animal average $22.50. Lethal control is far more expensive and inhumane than non-lethal alternatives.

Wildlife Services utilizes methods condemned by many as non-selective, haphazard, and brutal. Frequently, these methods endanger more than targetted animals. People and companion animals have been hurt or killed by traps and poisoning devices. Such horrific methods include:

Trapping may be the most inhumane method used by Wildlife Services, other public agencies, and private interests. It is highly unregulated with few restrictions on types of traps that can be set or the number of animals that can trapped. Most states do not require trappers to check traps for 2-4 days, allowing the animal to suffer. Animals frequently sustain severe injuries from traps. When not killed outright by the trap, animals can endure physiological trauma, dehydration, exposure to severe weather, and predation by other animals. Trappers usually club, suffocate, or strangle the animal because a bullet hole and blood would reduce a pelt’s value. Most traps are notoriously indiscriminate, capturing almost any animal who triggers them. Non-target species found in traps include endangered species, raptors, dogs, cats, and humans. Even if released, they may die from injuries or reduced ability to hunt or forage for food.

The most commonly used trap is the jaw leghold trap, a restraining device with spring-loaded steel jaws that clamp on an animal’s foot or leg when triggered. Leghold traps can cause severe swelling, lacerations, fractures, self-mutilation, limb amputation, and death. A desperate animal will often try to chew off a limb to escape. Snares are primitive wire nooses that are designed to tighten around an animal’s leg or neck. While small victims of neck snares may become unconscious in ten minutes from strangulation, larger animals may struggle for days. Conibear traps consist of two metal frames hinged at the center and powered by two torsion springs to create a scissor-like action. The traps are supposed to kill animals instantly by snapping their spinal column at the base of the neck. But, the devices kill fewer than 15 percent of trapped animals quickly. Many animals die slow, painful deaths as their abdomens, heads, or other body parts are crushed.

Aerial gunning
Each year, more money is poured into aerial gunning than any other Wildlife Services’ program. Aerial gunning employs the use of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft to shoot animals from the air. In 2006, the agency killed over 35,000 animals using aircraft. Though Wildlife Services claims it shoots only animals who have caused damage, it is difficult to determine which animal is responsible. As a result, any carnivore unlucky enough to fall within sight of an agency’s low-flying aircraft is shot. Since aerial gunning is imprecise, non-target animals, like domestic dogs or endangered wolves, are often killed. Aerial gunning is also frequently used for “preventative predator control,” permitting government agents to gun down as many carnivores as they can prior to ranch animals entering an area. And the pricetag for shooting carnivores from the sky can be high: killing one coyote can cost nearly $1,000.

Wildlife Services prefers two toxins to kill wildlife: Compound 1080, a rat poison developed by the Nazis during World War II, and M44 projectile devices, a spring-loaded, baited mechanism that releases sodium cyanide into the mouth of any animal who disturbs it. To easily poison carnivores, the agency uses Compound 1080-filled Livestock Protection Collars. The collar has a bladder attached that contains 1080 – a poison so lethal a single teaspoon can kill 100 people. Odorless, colorless, and tasteless, it causes symptoms similar to a heart attack or seizure. It not only kills the target animal but any animal who feeds on the carcass. Compound 1080 presents serious challenges to protecting national security because it is largely unregulated and could serve as a powerful terrorist tool.

Denning is the practice of tracking carnivores to their dens, then killing the pups hiding inside. Poisonous gas canisters are placed in dens to asphyxiate pups. Or government agents dig the pups out and “dispatch” them by shooting, decapitating, or clubbing them. Pups have even been burned alive in their dens.

Bounties, Contest Hunts
Engaging local citizens in carnivore “control” is also a common practice supported. Bounties and contest hunts are relied on heavily in western states. Most of the contest hunts focus on coyotes where hunters compete to kill the most coyotes within a specified time. In 2000, Utah appropriated $100,000 of taxpayer funds to the County Bounty program. The funds were used with matching funds from the county to pay $20 for every pair of coyote ears brought in by hunters. Bounty and contest hunts are barbaric and ineffective and foster antipathy toward carnivores, degrading them to vermin status. During these hunts entire coyote packs are shot, their ears taken, and their bodies left to rot.

Research shows lethal carnivore control is ineffective in the long run and often achieves the opposite of what is intended. This is especially true of coyotes. When left alone, coyotes regulate their own numbers. Coyote populations often follow their prey base. For example, when jackrabbit populations decline, coyote populations usually follow the same trend. Much like wolves, coyotes have a highly structured pack hierarchy, with only the alpha pair breeding. Other females, though physiologically capable of reproducing, are "behaviorally sterile." Coyotes respond to lethal control programs with a number of complex biological mechanisms, which work very efficiently to boost their numbers. If an alpha pair in the pack is killed, subordinate pack members splinter off from their original pack, forming new packs, breeding, and eventually bearing larger litters of pups. To feed these new litters, coyotes will reluctantly – as they are wary of "novel" foods – prey upon domestic animals, if adequate quantities of their normal diet of mice, gophers, and rabbits are not available. Killing coyotes not only increases the next generation of coyote numbers, but drives them to hunt sheep and calves they would normally avoid.

There are many non-lethal control solutions that are less expensive and more effective. Ranchers who use guard dogs, herder dogs such as collies, or llamas report lower or no predation problems. Nighttime penning also reduces conflicts with carnivores Taste aversion is one of the easiest, cheapest tools used to decrease predation. Lithium chloride, a natural salt, is inserted into bait. When ingested, the animal becomes ill; much like people experience when stricken by food poisoning. After such an unpleasant episode, the animal learns to avoid that food. This method makes far more economic sense than lethal methods as it can cost up to $2,000 to kill a carnivore, while the cost for Lithium Chloride is about $25-35 per herd per year. Monies spent on lethal control could be used in more productive ways. Funds could be allocated to educate and aid ranchers and others to upgrade their fencing or assist them with non-lethal techniques. Eliminating domestic animal grazing on public lands would dramatically reduce encounters with carnivores.

Help raise awareness about a group of species that are essential to healthy ecosystems. Don’t buy fur. Boycott businesses that sell fur products. Voice your support for efforts to ban trapping. Urge lawmakers to pass legislation that ends all lethal control on public lands. Insist on policies that encourage use of non-lethal methods. And support Big Wildlife, committed to restoring native carnivores around the globe.