A coalition of 115 conservation, animal protection, ranching, and faith-based organizations from across the United States today sent a letter to President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee for agriculture secretary asking that he halt the government slaughter of millions of wild animals, including wolves, coyotes, bears, cougars, and prairie dogs.
The letter faxed to Tom Vilsack requests that he reform the Agriculture Department’s wildlife “management” policies that the groups said “for too long have focused on exterminating, rather than protecting, wildlife.”
Each year the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “secretive” Wildlife Services kills millions of wild animals, “primarily on behalf of agribusiness,” the coalition wrote in its letter to Vilsack, a two-term Iowa governor.
One less cougar in the wild (Photo courtesy Big Wildlife)
“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,” said Brian Vincent, communications director for the wildlife protection group Big Wildlife, a project of the Earth Island Institute.
“Most Americans have no idea their tax dollars are used to brutalize countless bears, cougars, wolves, and coyotes,” Vincent said.
“Animals are shot from airplanes 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 stations and then shot,” the groups told Vilsack in their letter.
In 2007, Wildlife Services killed 2.4 million animals, including 121,565 carnivores.
The agency reported it spent more than $100 million in 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.
In 2007, Wildlife Services killed over 37,000 animals using aircraft.
An agency environmental assessment for eastern Colorado conducted in 1999 shows that many wounded animals may be left to die. Because Wildlife Services uses snowfall to track coyotes in early spring, agents may kill pregnant or lactating females, leaving pups to starve.
The letter to Vilsack explains the coalition’s objections to toxic chemicals used to kill predators. Sodium monofluoroacetate, commonly known as Compound 1080, a rat poison developed during World War II, and sodium cyanide are used by Wildlife Services.
“1080 is so lethal a single teaspoon can kill 100 people, and it is persistent in the environment,” the coalition told Vilsack. “The agency also sets M-44 devices, spring-loaded, baited mechanisms that release sodium cyanide into the mouth of any animal who disturbs the device.”
“Sodium cyanide and 1080 present serious national security risks,” the coalition writes. “The FBI has listed both as “super poisons” that are “most likely to be used by terrorists or for malicious intent.”
“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, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity in Silver City, New Mexico.
Polar bears are on the U.S. federal list of threatened species. (Photo courtesy Big Wildlife)
In 2005, Robinson authored a detailed history of the agency titled “Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West.”
The coalition’s letter explains that Wildlife Services’ killing program disrupts the environment by ignoring the importance of carnivores. As “keystone species,” carnivores play a pivotal role in sustaining ecological integrity and preserving species’ diversity, they said.
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, as well as trees.
A 2007 study done by forestry researchers at Oregon State University, supports theories about “cascades” of ecological damage that can be caused when key predators, in this case, wolves, are removed from an ecosystem, and show that recovery is possible when the predators are returned.
Yet, ongoing Wildlife Services persecution of wolves continues to harm these and other wildlife species across the West.
The coalition suggests non-lethal solutions that are less expensive and more effective at reducing conflicts than killing. “Ranchers who use guard dogs, llamas, burros, or who mix cattle and sheep report fewer or no predation problems,” they wrote to Vilsack.
Nighttime penning, penning during lambing and calving season, and removing livestock carcasses from pastures also reduce conflicts, the coalition suggests in addition to strobes and sirens to keep predators away.
Members of the groups say funds 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.
“Most Americans support conserving a diversity of native wildlife,” says the coalition, citing public opinion studies conducted in 1996 and 2000. The letter to Vilsack declares, “The activities of Wildlife Services are out of step with those values.”
Signatories on the letter to Agriculture Secretary Nominee Tom Vilsack include: Action for Animals • Action for Animals Network • Alabama Wildlife Advocates • Alaska Wildlife Alliance • All-Creatures.org • 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 • 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 Environment News Service