Wildlife Services Exposed!


Between 2000 and 2010, Wildlife Services killed more than one million coyotes.

Last week, a three-part series by Sacramento Bee Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Tom Knudson shed light on the federal agency responsible for killing so-called problem wildlife, an agency that many feel has lurked in the shadows for far too long.

Each year, more than 100,000 animals are killed by Wildlife Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in the name of livestock protection. More recently, the agency has also been called in to kill wolves and other animals in order to artificially boost game populations for hunters.

But as environmental groups have argued for decades, Wildlife Services’ approach is not only very costly but also often ineffective. Further, their shoot-first mentality perpetuates antiquated ideas about predator control instead of encouraging innovative nonlethal practices that allow people, livestock and wildlife to coexist.

In part one (“The killing agency: Wildlife Services’ brutal methods leave a trail of animal death,” Apr. 29), Knudson describes many of the lethal tools used by Wildlife Services to eliminate unwanted wildlife. Some of the more indiscriminate tools include head snares, leg hold traps, body grip traps and small poison capsules (see infographic), all of which are deadly to numerous species. Unfortunately, they do not always get their intended target. As a result, thousands of animals are “accidentally” killed each year, including some imperiled species as well as beloved pets. One former Wildlife Services trapper-turned-whistleblower reveals that he buried endangered golden eagles that got caught in snares he set for coyotes. Another Oregon family lost their dog to a Wildlife Services trap that was set to catch nutria in a suburban housing development.

Knudson moves on in part two (“Wildlife Services’ deadly force opens Pandora’s box of environmental problems,” Apr. 30) to present a wealth of evidence that suggests simply killing predators isn’t a viable solution. Coyote populations, for example, continue to rebound despite intensive lethal control by Wildlife Services. And in places where coyote populations have declined significantly, rodents, rabbits and feral cats tend to thrive, bringing their own set of problems. As scientists better understand the relationship between species, it has become increasingly clear that trying to wipe out an important native species can put the entire system out of whack.

Defenders wolf expert Suzanne Stone says the agency has completely failed to live up to its mission by relying solely on lethal control.

“If you look at their mandate, we could not have written it better for them,” said Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife, who has worked with Wildlife Services employees to promote nonlethal control. “It’s all about supporting wildlife conservation and promoting humane tools.

“That’s not what is happening on the ground,” Stone said. “Unfortunately, in parts of the western United States it just seems like they are still in the Dark Ages. They go at this as a kill mission. They are at war with wildlife.”

Defenders and several of our colleagues are also mentioned in part three (“Suggestions in changing Wildlife Services range from new practices to outright bans,” May 6), which highlights many of the nonlethal alternatives we have been working hard to promote. Wildlife Services has actually helped develop some of these tools and could play a critical role in educating ranchers about how to use them. But so far, they’re field agents have been unwilling to do so, Suzanne told the Bee.

“Their researchers are some of the top nonlethal specialists in the world,” Stone said. “They are developing and testing a lot of tools. But those tools are more often than not ridiculed by their field agents. They promote using lethal control almost always.”

The Wildlife Services agent who helped out at Lava Lake “was ridiculed, undermined and shunned by his own agency,” she added. “Not only are they undermining the use of this stuff in the field, they are actually undermining states that are trying to use these things.”

Thanks to Tom Knudson and the Sacramento Bee for exposing some of Wildlife Services more insidious practices and offering suggestions for reform. (Click here to read the Bee’s full editorial) We hope that additional scrutiny will inspire change in an agency that could be a helpful partner in promoting coexistence instead of needlessly killing our native wildlife.

23 Responses to “Wildlife Services Exposed!”

  1. David Greene

    I want to protect wildlife of all types. We don’t want to subsidize animal production that is not productive or based on good nutrition practices. Raising cattle or sheep is more destructive of water and and causes massive amounts of pollution. If ranchers think they are superior then they are wrong and probably should not be subsidized.

  2. Howard Pearlstein

    Aside from being unconscionable, it is amazing that any such organization as Wildlife Services, even if — especially if — kowtowing to hunters, that they don’t seem to understand that wolves improve the health and viability of game animals by killing the weak, sick, old, injured ones while hunters go for the biggest, healthiest, strongest ones. Amazing they don’t understand that wolves and hunters are mutually beneficial to each others’ goals.
    Not just unconscionable and cruel but stupid, short-sighted, politically craven and ultimately self defeating.

  3. litllady

    Is it wrong that while I read this all I think of is circle of life? do we really have to kill wolves for better hunting?how does that make sense?why not catch some and put them else where? how many places are there on this planet that we can not spread some wolves?really? come on!

  4. sunny

    I work in a store that sells leg traps………………I will not touch them I make the customer do all the handling of the dam things

  5. Michael E Modlin

    I have to agree with what David and Howard said. They put it all in one small request. The animals were here before us and also were here before the native Americans. I`m not a native American. I see their way of living. When they needed food, they would set up a hunting party to feed the tribe. If they were lucky enough, they would bring home a large deer or what they were able to find. When they were lucky enough to bring home a deer, they would pray to the Gods to thank them for the food to feed the tribe. Also, they would say a second prayer to thank the deer to give it`s life to help feed the tribe. Unfortunaley, we have people wanting to move and live where they want. If they build a house in the area`s that animals use, you don`t have any right to kill them when they lived there for centuries. Usually what these people don`t understand is life in general. Everything is set to what it`s suppossed to be. We would not have the large variation of all the wild life, our flora and fauna will suffer so much more than in the past. We are so lucky to have and enjoy our wildlife. I don`t know of another country I don`t hunt any longer because I don`t need the meat. It isn`t worth the money after you have a locker to cut up the meat for you. Some of us don`t know how to butcher, that`s bad. We need to learn We spend a large amount of money to feed the mammals, birds and all other creature`s on our property. I put 3 1/3 acres of our land into conservation so the animals of our property know they have a safe place. I`m not a native American. If I was, I would be down on all people that don`t really need the meat. They do it to show their friends how tough they are using a high powered rifle to kill an animal that has no way to defend it`s ground. I am not against hunting. The so-called government we have is more than happy to kill off all wildlife so no one can bitch about their living where they are. Animals have first dibs!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Interfereing with their plans to build a $10,000,000 home in the middle of their habitat. Too damn bad. Clear away the brush so your home is more protected from fires. Keep the grasses and bushes that die off every year off your property. I don`t know what else to tell people to be responsible about their land. You own it but, you don`t take care of it to keep your family safe. If you can`t understand this then don`t be surprised when they come and keep your survival set-up. Take care of our citizen`s. Remember, family, then property, then community. Thank you to all the real people in our country that may get the chance to read my little letter. You all take care. Watch your topnopt and keep your powder dry. Semper Fi. Griz. I pray for a clean win in all of our warsthat the presidents have put our children on alert for dying for their country?


    As long as the mentality of these so called agencies is to destroy and kill first,things will never change, the mentality of so many individuals now days is based on pure ignorance, not knowing what is best for the species and humans in general, I pity a future without a diversity of all wildlife, unfortunately that is where we are heading…TOO MUCH …IGNORANCE…

  7. Larry F Furgal

    It is so good to know that our tax dollars are helping to kill animals!! This agency should be ashamed of itself. But,of course, they are not. What has our country and our gov’t turned into. Really sad.

  8. Kassandra Martinez

    We need to stop killing animals and start helping them to survive. Humans are Soooo stupid to do such a thing. We all need to stop killing ,and bring peace to the world

  9. Judy Vincent

    Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife are actively trying to stop anyone from rehabilitating wildlife. They are saying the rehabers can’t save enough to make a difference, anyway. They are revoking state rehab licenses to everyone they can. Even though there isn’t enough money to enforce laws that actually protect wildlife, ODFW is trying to tightly control the these people who rescue, raise, rehab and release healthy wildlife. Already, ODFW does not allow the rescuing of orphaned fawns, and racoons but now they require to be informed when any native squirrels are ready for release so they can be released where they can be hunted. The only wildlife that ODFW cares about are the ones that can be killed.
    So, I am not surprise that other similar organizations like to follow the same mantra.

  10. Antje Göttert

    How can an organization that has no understanding for wild amimals be called “Wildlife Services”? It`s name should be “Wildlife Killing Services”.

  11. Kylie Pajaczek

    The world would of been better off without us humans.

  12. Charlotte Dwyer

    I am amazed at the continued wanton killings done by our government services. I now believe that those hired in these services are “natural born killers-hunters” rather than knowledgeable, well- trained persons whose intentions are to save our wildlife. Nature takes care of itself. Wolves keep our lands in balance by hunting. Another travesty of our government. No one is doing their job. I don’t think it is too late to start over. What is really a big mistake is allowing sheep and cattle farms since they are the main cause of our environmental pollution and biggest cause of the loss of our ozone protection–MORESO THAN AUTOS– and they are not healthy in our diets. THEY ARE NATURALLY IN THE FOOD CHAIN FOR WOLVES. Check it out. What we need is a President of the U.S.A. who really knows this and helps get rid of the agencies who are adding to our losses. We need all our voters to get out and vote in November.

  13. eugene daub

    Traps are a brutally cruel way to catch an animal . It should be against the law.
    In the 21st century is this tortuous devise still used ? Eugene Daub

  14. Zaphod2010

    The only ones getting anything out of the unnecessary killing of animals are the hunters.
    It’s all done for them. The people of Africa and other countries use a special breed of dogs, AnatoliI believe, to guard their cattle from predators.
    Why can’t the US do the same? Right! The hunters have the say against 90%+ of the population!

  15. Patty Insignares

    It is beyond me that trapping is still legal. That number up there doesn’t include the hunters,trappers and poachers! WHAT? We need to change our ways or it will come back on us for sure. I think that has already started… Bravo lobbyists in Washington, you have continued to perpetuate a barbaric and embarrassing policy. Woe be to humankind.

  16. Karen Uyeno

    @Howard Pearlstein,

    Hi! I think I know you. Are you the Howard Pearlstein that went to the NRPA convention in Phoenix, Arizona in 1980?

    Anyway, you are absolutely right! Wolves and hunters are mutually beneficial to each others’ goals.

  17. Karen Uyeno

    I applaud Representatives DeFazio, D-Oregon and Campbell, R-Newport Beach for speaking out for wolves. Rep. DeFazio has introduced a bill that would ban the use of sodium monoflroroacetate and sodium cyanide (poisons). Rep. John Campbell, R-Newport Beach, asks why we continue a program that is, “not very effective, has a number of unintended consequences and costs millions of dollars.”

    I hope many more congressmen stand up for wolves.

  18. ASuzyQ

    I agree with the comments above. I am a volunteer activist with Defenders of Wildlife and other like agencies. Take you comments to these sites, sign petitions and personalize them. Humans have the attitude of entitlement and pervades every corner of our Universe. If it’s defenseless, there are those who just can’t wait to push, crush, kill. The guys with the guns have plenty of clout and bullets. We have to fight for our wildernesses and wildlife otherwise we’ll be left with something akin to DUNE. No clean water, no clean air and nothing left above ground.

  19. Sharon Baron

    Why don’t we just kill everything. Get rid of anything alive so the planet is completely dead. It is amazing how ignorant we are in not understanding the network of living creatures and how it works. The human ego and the human bad habits are the ones we need to control and educate. Torture and long prolonged deaths of creatures that are necessary predators is absolutely intolerable. It’s amazing how Wildlife Services is allowed to do the things they do. Short sightedness is an understatement. It is total ignorance and egomania. Natural predation maintains a natural control. It is our diet and consumption that is out of wack. We have lost our minds.

  20. charlotte

    my god. help us all to save our wildlife. what’s wrong with people?

  21. Lynn

    Cold-hearted killers, if you ask me. If they couldn’t kill animals, would they resort to humans?

You May also be interested in