USDA Wildlife Services almost gets culled

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1998:

WASHINGTON D.C.––Wiley Coyote almost won a
round on June 23, as the House of Representatives voted 229 to
193 in favor of a bill introduced by Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon)
and Charles Bass (R-New Hampshire) to cut $10 million, the
cost of predator killing programs, from the fiscal 1999 USDA
Wildlife Services budget of $28.8 million––a cut four times
deeper than President Bill Clinton proposed in January.
The funding was almost certain to have been restored
in the Senate, where the 17 western states whose ranchers most
use Wildlife Services have proportionally far more clout, but
taking no chances, Wildlife Services senior staff and livestock
industry representatives lobbied through the night.
Congressional allies then demanded a revote on June 24, which
rescinded the cut, 232-192.
Despite losing an apparent landmark victory, predator
advocates remained encouraged at retaining 53 more votes
against Wildlife Services than ever before were mustered. The
previous high of 139 votes came in 1996, when Wildlife
Services was still called Animal Damage Control.
“We’ll keep at it,” pledged Tom Skeele, executive
director of the Predator Project, an activist group headquartered
in Bozeman, Montana.

In recent years Wildlife Services has killed about 1.5
million animals a year, at total cost for lethal control measures
of about $19.6 million. Reported livestock losses to predators
came to under $6 million a year.
Opponents of Wildlife Services were not helped politically
by arsons that on June 21 razed two USDA wildlife control
research facilities near Olympia, Washington. North
American Animal Liberation Front spokesperson Katie Fedor,
of Minneapolis, reportedly told David Ammons of Associated
Press that she was “98% sure” the fires were set by ALF
activists. Ammons said one of the two burned facilities was
used to “study non-lethal ways to repel deer, bears, and other
animals from timber seedlings.” The other site was apparently
used mainly as office space.
The fires did a reported $1.5 million worth of damage––and,
on the eve of the House voting, shifted attention
away from the animals victimized by Wildlife Services to
Wildlife Services itself as a victim.
The fires occurred within an easy drive of the sites of
three other actions attributed to ALF which also tended to harm
animal rights movement credibility.
In the first, raiders on May 31, 1997 released as
many as 9,600 mink from a fur farm at Mount Angel, Oregon,
but about 2,400 mink either died of exposure, killed each other
in territorial conflict, or were trampled by the raiders themselves
during their getaway.
About a month later, someone torched a horse
slaughtering plant in Redmond, Oregon, with the net result
that the same number of horses are killed, but are now trucked
farther first.
The third action of the apparent sequence was an
arson which briefly allowed several dozen horses to escape
from a Bureau of Land Management holding facility.

Before the arsons, Wildlife Services drew bad publicity
all spring:
• In Kern County, California, LaWanna Clark, 51,
on March 11 became the fourth Wildlife Services coyote-strafing
pilot killed in a crash on the job in 17 months. Her co-pilot
survived with a broken leg. Clark, the first female Wildlife
Services pilot, had been with the agency for just two months.
Wildlife Services normally operates 25 aircraft, each usually
carrying two pilots.
• Coyote-strafing drew further criticism in late April
when the Arizona Game and Fish Department hired Wildlife
Services aircraft to kill 67 coyotes near Flagstaff, purportedly
to increase the reproductive success of pronghorn––who are
hunted in the vicinity by humans. Animal Defense League of
Arizona executive director Lisa Markkula noted that the strafing
areas coincided with the locations of grazing leases. “We
think the shooting was done for the ranchers,” she told Arizona
Daily Star reporter Keith Bagwell. Wildlife Damage Review
noted that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt’s family is among
the leaseholders.
• Wildlife Services was not involved when South
Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Department pilot Dennis
Harmon and trapper Glen Sterling Jr. survived a May 11 crash
while chasing a coyote, but the parallel with the Wildlife
Services crashes drew media note.
• Rita Freeman and Randy Oster, of Estacada,
Oregon, in April distributed videotape and written affidavits
documenting alleged improper battery snaring done by Wildlife
Services trapper Mark Lytle on behalf of sheep rancher Glen
Lohr. “It is pretty evident from our video,” Freeman wrote,
“that every animal, domestic or wild, was being baited into the
area on purpose.” Reporter Jon Catton of KGW-8 News documented
that even after Lytle cleaned up the site, under pressure,
a number of evidently forgotten snares remained behind.
• On May 3, Cyril T. Zaneski of the Miami Herald
exposed how Bernice Constantin, a male, has increased the
number of lethal take permits issued by the Wildlife Services
office in Gainesville, Florida, from 115 in 1993, his first year
heading the office, to 1,670 in 1997. Under previous chief
Richard Thompson, now retired, the Gainesville office killed
just six birds in all of 1992. The increased killing has come as
Constantin has raised his office budget from $76,905 in 1993 to
more than $228,000 in 1997, by taking on nuisance bird control
contracts with private property owners––over growing
opposition from the Florida Audubon Society, which has noted
the killings of anhingas, great horned owls, cedar waxwings,
and woodpeckers, all of which are protected species, along
with black vultures, turkey vultures, and cormorants, also protected
under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act but routinely
targeted under policy exemptions granted by the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service.
• One client, Walt Disney Inc., insisted that
Constantin relocate rather than kill problematic vultures, so
Constantin relocated 640 vultures from Disney property in
1994, but Disney staff biologists became suspicious that the
same birds just kept flying back. Further, Zaneski learned,
“Constantin moved the vultures without informing the Florida
Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, which requires permits
for attempts to move native birds. The state opposes relocations
without proof they are effective and do not needlessly
cause suffering.” As of May 1998, Zaneski discovered, the
USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center in Florida had “just
begun conducting an experiment to study vulture relocation.”
• In Hawaii, Carroll Cox of EnviroWatch documented
with a stack of more than 50 lethal take reports, Wildlife
Services on many occasions and at multiple sites in recent years
has allowed volunteers from local hunting clubs to do nuisance
wildlife killing. “This is attractive to the shooters because it
circumvents hunting season regulations and bag limits,” Cox
explained. “It also poses a problem to protected species,” he
added, “ as the hunters are not knowledgeable about species.”
• The problems that can result from using animal
damage control personnel who don’t know one species from
another were demonstrated on the outskirts of Bethany,
Oklahoma, according to the Cleveland County Audubon
Society, when city employees “illegally killed over 200 great
egrets and wounded many more in an attempt to displace the
birds from a heron colony” in early April. “At least four city
employees used 12-gauge shotguns to shoot egrets while they
were sitting on their nests,” the Audubon Society press release
stated. “The depredation permit issued by the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service clearly specified that up to 500 adult cattle
egrets could be killed. Not only were the killed birds misidentified,
but there were no cattle egrets nesting at the colony,
which was comprised primarily of great egrets,” the species
depicted in the logo of the National Audubon Society. Though
the Bethany massacre was not a Wildlife Services operation,
the parallel to the Hawaiian situation was self-evident.
• Blasting a new niche for itself by killing Canada
geese under contract to various communities, Wildlife Services
has run into frequent controversy for donating uninspected carcasses
to soup kitchens and for allegedly failing to explore nonlethal
alternatives. On June 24, the Humane Society of the
U.S., Animal Protection Institute, and homeowner June Faris
of Great Falls, Virginia, won a restraining order from U.S.
District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly against a planned
Wildlife Services roundup and slaughter of 1,300 Canada
geese, pending completion of an environmental impact statement.
In Redmond, Washington, meanwhile, the Northwest
Animal Rights Network organized a June 26 protest against the
Wildlife Services killing of 165 Canada geese, with plans to
kill 400 more. NARN offered to pay for hiring a trained goose
dog to keep the flock out of sensitive areas.

Primarily killing coyotes for most of its 67-year history,
ADC/Wildlife Services has come under attack from animal
advocates as an ecologically destructive boondoggle since the
mid-1960s. In 1972 President Richard Nixon barred ADC from
using Compound 1080, or sodium fluoroacetate, a poison with
a high propensity to kill non-target species. Under the Ronald
Reagan presidential administration, however, ADC was
moved from the auspices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
to the USDA, and was allowed to resume using Compound
1080 in the form of lethal sheep collars. The collars are now in
limited use in nine western states.
In June 1997, the Oregon Department of Agriculture
authorized a two-year test of the collars in Curry County, over
the opposition of Predator Defense Institute director Brooks
Fahy––who gained an attentive ear in new Oregon governor
John A. Kitzhaber, M.D.
On June 12, Kitzhaber wrote to Fahy that the
Compound 1080 collars had not yet actually been deployed,
adding “I will do what I can to end the trial period as soon as
possible. I do not support the use of this collar in Oregon, and
will work to have its use banned.”
Ranchers have argued that without Compound 1080
collars, which presumably kill only coyotes who bite at the
neck of a collared sheep, they will be obliged to shoot more
coyotes to protect their stock.
But concurrent with Kitzhaber’s declaration, Douglas
County cut a controversial $100 bounty on coyotes back to $10,
after hunters killed 600 coyotes in 100 days. In all of 1997,
with the bounty at $10, 345 coyotes were killed. Douglas
County officials said the bounty was reduced to the former
level because enough coyotes had been killed to insure the safety
of spring-born lambs. However, the county commissioners
may also have begun to learn that as Fahy warned them, killing
coyotes only accelerates the rate of coyote reproduction, as
females bear nearly twice as many pups when habitat is relatively
unoccupied. In that light, the exceptionally high toll this
spring may have been less inspired by the $100 bounty than an
inevitable consequence of the 1997 coyote-killing: the bounty
may have put more hunters in the field, but the 1997 population
reduction put the extra coyotes there to be shot.

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