Should the Government Be Killing the Wildlife We Travel to Experience?
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) What could be done with $100 million dollars? As it turns out, a lot of bloodshed.
That is how much is spent every year by Wildlife Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service , to kill hundreds of thousands of animals.
The species most commonly targeted by Wildlife Services' lethal control program are predators such as wolves, bears, coyote and mountain lions. An estimated 100,000 native carnivores are killed each year, with approximately 2 million animals killed since 2000.
The purpose is often to prevent losses of either livestock or game species such as deer and elk that are popular targets for hunters. Some of the methods used for controlling predators include trapping, aerial gunning, denning (killing young in their dens) and using poisons such as Compound 1080 or sodium cyanide M-44.
"Driven by narrow agricultural interests, these predator control activities often ignore the greater public need for a healthy environment, fiscal responsibility and safe public lands, raising some serious questions about how the program is being administered," says a press release from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which holds the position that Wildlife Services is wrongfully scapegoating predators.
USDA Wildlife Services is distinct as the only federal program that markets its services killing native predators native predators and other "nuisance" wildlife to ranchers, state wildlife management agencies and even corporations, despite a mission "to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist." It not only seems contradictory as a mission; it has also caused several conservation groups to accuse Wildlife Services of having a profit-driven conflict of interest.
The program is so notorious that last year it became the subject of a three-part expose in The Sacramento Bee by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tom Knudson. He found that the programs went on with minimal monitoring and also killed tens of thousands of non-target animals, including cats, dogs and river otters.
"There will obviously be times when livestock and predators come into conflict, when coyotes kill lambs and black bears become too accustomed to humans and cause genuine harm," began a scathing editorial on the Wildlife Services program that appeared in The New York Times this past summer, "But Wildlife Services' lethal damage is broad and secretive."
The environmental nonprofit Predator Defense argues that lethal control is not only harmful to sensitive predator populations, but to ecosystems that rely on healthy predator populations to function.
As it turns out, science is on their side.
In the 1960s a "green world" hypothesis suggested that predators help plants and trees thrive by keeping herbivores such as deer in check. In the Rocky Mountain West, exactly that happened in what's called "trophic cascade": The absence of wolves in the region led to lots of deer that feasted without check on trees and other plants, killing them off.