The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program uses millions of taxpayer dollars — often to slaughter hundreds of thousands of wild animals every year.
Earlier this spring, numbers released from the agency showed it killed a shocking 1.3 million native animals last year alone. Not only is the death toll staggering, its use of both cruel and indiscriminate methods from traps, snares and poison to aerial gunning have been called out for being wasteful and ethically and scientifically indefensible. Its actions have also continued to put threatened and endangered species, pets and us at risk.
Conservationists and animal advocates have continued to shine a light on what’s happening, and work to hold the agency accountable. They’re celebrating another victory in California this week with an announcement that Shasta County has suspended its contract with the program.
A coalition of organizations joined forces earlier this summer and filed a notice of intent to sue the county for violating the California Environmental Quality Act, California Endangered Species Act, and the Public Trust Doctrine, among other laws. The organizations included the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Protection Information Center, the Mountain Lion Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Project Coyote, and WildEarth Guardians.
“Shasta County is home to dozens of threatened and endangered species that are at risk of being maimed or killed by Wildlife Services’ use of archaic and indiscriminate methods,” said Johanna Hamburger, wildlife attorney for the Animal Welfare Institute. “By discontinuing its contract, Shasta County is helping to ensure that these species, which are already struggling to survive, have a better chance at recovery.”
According to the coalition, the county’s contract had allowed for the killing of hundreds of animals without assessing the ecological damage, or considering alternatives – mainly at the behest of agribusinesses. Over the past eight years, Wildlife Services has killed 72,385 animals in Shasta County using traps, snares and firearms.
In all, Wildlife Services targeted and killed species including black bears, beavers, bobcats, coyotes, deer, foxes, mountain lions, muskrats, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, opossums, thousands upon thousands of birds, including tricolored blackbirds who are protected as a threatened species in the state, feral pigs, and three domestic dogs.
“This decision is a major victory for Shasta County’s coyotes, bears and other wildlife,” said Collette Adkins, a biologist and attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “All the latest science shows predator control is expensive, ineffective and inhumane. We’re glad Shasta County recognizes there’s no basis for continuing to shoot, trap and strangle thousands of animals every year.”
While it’s too late to save the thousands of animals that have lost their lives, Shasta County’s move is a promising step towards promoting non-lethal alternatives to wildlife management, dealing with “nuisance” animals, and promoting coexistence with wildlife as other places, like Marin County, have already proven possible.
“Many non-lethal alternatives exist that effectively reduce if not eliminate conflicts between live-stock and predators,” said Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote. “Shasta County should follow the lead of counties like Marin that decided to adopt a non- lethal cost-share program in place of the USDA Wildlife Services lethal and indiscriminate program. Marin’s Livestock and Wildlife Protection Program is more cost effective, humane, and has proven that non-lethal methods–including livestock guard animals, Foxlights, and better fencing–are effective predator deterrents.”
This article was first published by Care2.com on 25 Jul 2018.
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