letter to the editor | re: should the government kill wild animals

letter to the editor | re: should the government kill wild animals

When reading or engaging in discussions about animal welfare, human-wildlife conflict, or zoonotic disease, things can become emotionally-charged very quickly.
For this article, I recommend using an indica to help keep you focused yet calm and emotionally-regulated. Grinding less than 50mg of indica (much less than 1/4 of a 1g bud) and then smoking just a small pinch of that once or twice over a 3-5hr period is perfect for maintaining a calm state of mind when studying socially-, emotionally-, and even politically-challenging concepts.
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Original Publication Date: August 26, 2019

Between 1865-1890, when 3 million European families were settling the Western United States, the settlers drove prey species such as bison (Bison bison), mule deer (Odocoileus hemonius), elk (Cervus elaphus) and pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) to dangerously low numbers – the bison nearly going extinct – and ultimately replaced these species with domesticated livestock.

Because carnivores retained their “presettlement abundance” (Bergstrom et al., 2013, p. 133), wolves (Canis lupus) and coyotes (Canis latrans) specifically, depended on the abandoned carcasses. Yet, as the decline in prey species populations began to take effect, these predators turned their attention to livestock, beginning the “campaign of large-scale predator extermination” (Bergstrom et al., 2013, p.134).

Interest for state and private bounties for extermination began to wane in 1900, and livestock owners lobbied for federal involvement in predator removal. In response, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service collaborated with the Bureau of Biological Services (BBS), and received the necessary congressional funding in 1915.

By 1939, livestock owners and the federal government teamed up to create and fund the Division of Predator Animal and Rodent Control (PARC) under BBS, which was succeeded by the US Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Animal Damage Control (ADC), to ultimately become what is now, Wildlife Services (WS), which operates under USDA Animal Plant and Health Inspection Services (APHIS).

To this day, WS still operates primarily under the 1931 ADC Act (7 U.S.C. §426), which allows funding by private stakeholders, so opening up the space for conflicts of interest (Bergstrom et al., 2013).

WS has operated this way for over a century, and, despite numerous name changes and department transfers, somehow still resists legislative change despite criticism from scientific committees and interest groups such as the American Society of Mammalogists, scientific research which proves their lethal methods are dangerously indiscriminate, costly and inviable, and public opposition (Adkins, 2018; Bergstrom et al., 2013; Draheim et al., 2019, Elliot et al., 2016; McManus et al., 2014).

This origin of this agency is important, as it has been shown that communities which have a history of lethal control toward predators such as coyotes have deeply-set negative perspective on the species which is the target of lethal control, and that these views are, more often than not, based on myth and word-of-mouth rather than legitimate scientific research or ecological fact.

Because of this history – not only of WS, but the United States as a nation, due to the experience of early settlers, which were largely influenced by the culture of agricultural communities, C. latrans has been the victim of disproportionate lethal control by the federal agency, USDA APHIS WS (Figure 1), and state legislation such as that of California’s Mammal Hunting laws (California Code of Regulations, CCR T14 §472-475) and California Fish and Game Code (CA FGC) Division 4 Chapter 3 Articles 1 and 2.

The prejudice against this species is due to severe, negative anthropomorphism, neglect of legitimate, credible scientific research, and the vested interests of agricultural communities and politicians. The resulting intense pressure on this species worsens the very problem it aims to eliminate: human-coyote conflict. 

The WS Code of Ethics claims that each and every staff is expected to show the utmost respect for every animal and human they work for and with. Yet, despite decades of outcry from groups such as the American Society of Mammalogists and public opposition with increased public value of wildlife and strong environmental ethics, the agency somehow resists legislative change.

The Center for Biological Diversity (Adkins, 2018) released a press release last year explicitly listing the devastating numbers of animals killed by WS:

  • 69,041 adult coyotes
  • Unknown number of pups in 393 destroyed dens
  • 624,845 red-winged blackbirds
  • 552 black bears
  • 319 mountain lions
  • 1,001 bobcats
  • 675 river otters (587 categorized as killed “unintentionally”)
  • 3,827 foxes and unknown number of pups in 128 dens
  • 23,646 beavers
  • 15,933 prairie dogs and unknown number in 38,452 in destroyed burrows
Figure 1. Coyotes killed by USDA APHIS Wildlife Services by state between 1996-2008. After 2008, data was no longer reported by state.

The USDA APHIS WS Directive on lethal management states that the agency’s control methods are as “age-, species-, or taxonomic/class-specific as possible” (WS 2011). Yet their methods, which include M44s, leghold traps, baited traps, snares, etc. are all extremely indiscriminate and, as shown above, are attributed to a stunning amount of damage to wildlife.

WS justifies these actions by saying that there “integrative” wildlife damage management methods are to protect natural resources such as forests and endangered/threatened species (WS, 2009a). One would ask, how does a native species, such as a coyote, “damage” its own natural habitat, or prey species it naturally consumes?

The only way is if human interests are prioritized over the health of the ecosystems. Competition with species such as coyotes and mountain lions for prey species including mule deer, and agricultural interests are the primary drivers behind WS actions.

So, should the government kill wild animals? No. Not until they can base their actions on credible, current science, and prove that there is no alternative route that can be taken. Not until they can prove to the public that they are representing the interests of the entire country, and not just a subset of the population.

Not until they genuinely consider and draft a truly integrative management plan, which is not biased against predator species and prioritizes human conveniences over animal welfare and health of our country’s ecosystems.

No, the government should not kill wild animals. Because they have shown that they cannot carry out their federal duties responsibly.

References

Adkins, C. (2018, April 23). Agriculture department killed 1.3 million native animals in 2017. Retrieved from https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2018/wildlife-services-04-23-2018.php

​Bergstrom, B. J., Arias, L. C., Davidson, A. D., Ferguson, A. W., Randa, L. A., & Sheffield, S. R. (2013). License to kill: Reforming federal wildlife control to restore biodiversity and ecosystem function. Conservation Letters7(2), 131-142. doi:10.1111/conl.12045

Draheim, M. M., Parsons, E. C., Crate, S. A., & Rockwood, L. L. (2019). Public perspectives on the management of urban coyotes. Journal of Urban Ecology5(1). doi:10.1093/jue/juz003

Elliot, E. E., Vallance, S., & Molles, L. E. (2016). Coexisting with coyotes (Canis latrans) in an urban environment. Urban Ecosystems19(3), 1335-1350. doi:10.1007/s11252-016-0544-2

McManus, J. S., Dickman, A. J., Gaynor, D., Smuts, B. H., & Macdonald, D. W. (2014). Dead or alive? Comparing costs and benefits of lethal and non-lethal human–wildlife conflict mitigation on livestock farms. Oryx49(4), 687-695. doi:10.1017/s0030605313001610

United States Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services. (2009a). WS directive: Mission and philosophy of the WS program (1.201). Retrieved from https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_WS_Program_Directives

United States Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services. (2009b). WS directive: Selecting wildlife damagement management methods (2.101). Retrieved from https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_WS_Program_Directives

United States Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services. (2010). WS directive: Code of ethics (1.301). Retrieved from https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_WS_Program_Directives

Wildlife Services. (1996). Harvest and population data of selected reported species reported to the WS program, FY 1996. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_Reports

Wildlife Services. (1997). Harvest and population data of selected reported species reported to the WS program, FY 1997. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_Reports

Wildlife Services. (1998). Harvest and population data of selected reported species reported to the WS program, FY 1998. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_Reports

Wildlife Services. (1999). Harvest and population data of selected reported species reported to the WS program, FY 1999. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_Reports

Wildlife Services. (2000). Harvest and population data of selected reported species reported to the WS program, FY 2000. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_Reports

Wildlife Services. (2001). Harvest and population data of selected reported species reported to the WS program, FY 2001. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_Reports

Wildlife Services. (2002). Harvest and population data of selected reported species reported to the WS program, FY 2002. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_Reports

Wildlife Services. (2003). Harvest and population data of selected reported species reported to the WS program, FY 2003. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_Reports

Wildlife Services. (2004). Harvest and population data of selected reported species reported to the WS program, FY 2004. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_Reports

Wildlife Services. (2005). Number of animals killed and methods used by the WS program, FY 2005. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_Reports

Wildlife Services. (2006). Number of animals killed and methods used by the WS program, FY 2006. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_Reports

Wildlife Services. (2007). Number of animals killed and methods used by the WS program, FY 2007. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_Reports

Wildlife Services. (2008). Number of animals killed and methods used by the WS program, FY 2008. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/SA_Reports

Wildlife Services. (2009). Table G. Animals Taken by Wildlife Services – FY 2009. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/sa_reports/sa_pdrs/sa_2009/ct_data_index_2009

Wildlife Services. (2010). Table G. Animals Taken by Wildlife Services – FY 2010. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/sa_reports/sa_pdrs/sa_2009/ct_data_index_2010

Wildlife Services. (2011). Table G. Animals Taken by Wildlife Services – FY 2011. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/sa_reports/sa_pdrs/sa_2009/ct_data_index_2011

Wildlife Services. (2011). Table G. Animals Taken by Wildlife Services – FY 2011. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/sa_reports/sa_pdrs/sa_2009/ct_data_index_2012

Wildlife Services. (2011). Table G. Animals Taken by Wildlife Services – FY 2011. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/sa_reports/sa_pdrs/sa_2009/ct_data_index_2013

Wildlife Services. (2014). Program Data Report G – 2014 Animals Dispersed / Killed or Euthanized / Removed or Destroyed / Freed or Relocated. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/pdr/?file=PDR-G_Report?p=2014:INDEX:

Wildlife Services. (2015). Program Data Report G – 2015 Animals Dispersed / Killed or Euthanized / Removed or Destroyed / Freed or Relocated. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/pdr/?file=PDR-G_Report?p=2015:INDEX:

Wildlife Services. (2016). Program Data Report G – 2016 Animals Dispersed / Killed or Euthanized / Removed or Destroyed / Freed or Relocated. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/pdr/?file=PDR-G_Report?p=2016:INDEX:

Wildlife Services. (2017). Program Data Report G – 2017 Animals Dispersed / Killed or Euthanized / Removed or Destroyed / Freed or Relocated. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/pdr/?file=PDR-G_Report?p=2017:INDEX:

Wildlife Services. (2018). Program Data Report G – 2018 Animals Dispersed / Killed or Euthanized / Removed or Destroyed / Freed or Relocated. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/pdr/?file=PDR-G_Report?p=2018:INDEX


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