Wildlife Services Dodges Disclosure on Animal Killing

"Wildlife Services" is a secretive branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that annually kills millions of animals. Last year, it liquidated more than four million wildlife and pets, while spending $121 million--mostly tax dollars--to do the task. Their efforts purportedly help those in agribusiness, but new government data demonstrate otherwise.

Never heard of "Wildlife Services"? Don't worry, you're not alone. Although this euphemistically named agency has existed since 1885, it purposefully avoids the spotlight, and it revels in its obscurity. As my colleague, Andrew Wetzler, stated: "they're the most important wildlife agency you never heard of."

Agents and contractors employed by Wildlife Services operate on our national forests, wilderness areas, national monuments, and even on private lands. Unaccountable to the public--except those in agribusiness--these agents employ a secret arsenal that would make any mercenary army proud: helicopters, airplanes, guns, poisons, traps, snares, and wildlife-chasing hounds.

Wildlife Services admits in newly-released data that it exterminated 4.1 million animals and destroyed 18,000 more in 2009. This includes 27,314 beavers; 988,577 blackbirds; and 114,522 mammalian carnivores, including 1,775 bobcats, 82,097 coyotes, 480 wolves, 571 river otters, and 443 black bears.

Last month, WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit against Wildlife Services for failing to disclose its 2008 budget expenditures under the Freedom of Information Act. In response, Wildlife Services and its parent agency, the USDA's Animal and Health Inspection Service, claim that the two entities track their expenses using two different databases, but that neither were capable of interacting with the other. Thus, Wildlife Services claims, it does not know how much it spends on its controversial aerial gunning program.


Wildlife Services cannot judge how many tax dollars it spends shooting coyotes and wolves from helicopters and airplanes? A letter from the government to WildEarth Guardians states: "Wildlife Services does not have a managerial need for financial data at this finite level."

Good to know Wildlife Services does not have that need--but the American public certainly does. Especially when all this killing has no real benefit.

Despite tales of wolves lurking in the woods looking for little girls in red hoods or little pigs in straw houses, wolves and other native carnivores kill very few domestic livestock. According to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, less than one percent of the entire cattle inventory, and approximately four percent of the entire sheep inventory is killed by carnivores (and this includes domestic dogs). This is true even where wolves have been restored to the landscape.

Wildlife Services kills our native wildlife. They refuse to disclose how much they spend on their operations. They artfully dodge disclosure, even while in litigation. Time for Congress to step in and engage in oversight. Time for this rogue agency to show some accountability to the public because it spends its money with alacrity for ill purpose.