EnviroNews and other news reports are exposing a secret agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), called Wildlife Services (WS), which they argue is not being held accountable by the public or congress– despite numerous efforts to do so. Congressman Peter DeFazio has requested numerous times, to no avail, for information about the agency’s finances and operations.
Christopher Ketcham’s report (a fellow at MIT’s Knight Science Journalism Program) was published in Harper’s Magazine earlier this year: “The Rogue Agency: A USDA program that tortures dogs and kills endangered species.” After which, the National Geographic’s Wildlife Watch interviewed him about his experience. Ketcham said:
“the agency denied him at every turn: Congressman Peter DeFazio would tell you that it’s unaccountable and secretive. He has tried to get information about its finances and its operations, and he couldn’t get it. Wildlife Services seems to be freely violating their directives, especially when it comes to the EPA’s rules on the use of pesticides.”
The USDA’s annual Program Data Report states that it killed at least 3.2 million wild animals in 2015; 1,681,283 were animals native to the United States. Former employees are also speaking up, stating “a large number of the agency’s killings are not reported at all.”
According to the report, the government killed 69,905 coyotes, 384 gray wolves, 284 cougars, 480 black bears, 731 bobcats, 1,511 gray foxes, and 1,534 red foxes, 20,334 black-tailed prairie dogs, 21,557 beavers; even 17 domesticated dogs.
“Wildlife Services — ever heard of it? No, not the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That’s something different. The Fish and Wildlife Service is part of the Department of the Interior, charged with enforcing wildlife laws, restoring habitat, and protecting fish, plants, and animals.
“Wildlife Services isn’t your state fish and game commission, either, which issues hunting and fishing licenses and manages local wildlife. Wildlife Services is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it specializes in killing wild animals that threaten livestock—especially predators such as coyotes, wolves, and cougars. Outside the ranching community, few have heard of Wildlife Services.”
Tom Knudson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning reporter wrote a 12-part series for the Sacramento Bee, called The Killing Agency: Wildlife Services’ Brutal Methods Leave a Trail of Death. He writes:
“The odds are good you have never heard of a small federal agency that goes by the curious name of Wildlife Services. There’s a reason for that. The agency – which specializes in killing wild animals that threaten agriculture, especially predators – prefers to operate in the shadows. That is a lesson I learned repeatedly while reporting a series of articles about Wildlife Services for The Sacramento Bee in 2012. Even basic information about where species were killed – and with what methods – was closely guarded and accessible only via the Freedom of Information Act. When I asked to observe Wildlife Services’ lethal predator control in action on public land in Nevada, the answer was unequivocal: ‘No.'”
The Humane Society refers to the program as “Wildlife Disservices,” and created a photo collage (now several years old) highlighting the millions of animals the federal government has killed in the name of “predator control.”
The Humane Society also points out over one billion dollars was spent over one decade to,
“[kill] nearly 34 million bears, bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions, wolves and many other wild animals in the name of protecting crops, farm animals, private property and even other species such as rare birds and prey species favored by hunters.”
How is it that a government agency that allegedly “tortures dogs and kills endangered species” is not being held accountable for its actions and even a congressman can’t get the information he’s requested?