In June, a coalition of environmental organizations, including the Center for Biological Diversity and Project Coyote, filed a letter with the Boards of Supervisors of Humboldt and Mendocino counties demanding an end to their agreements with Wildlife Services (WS), a division within the United States Department of Agriculture exclusively concerned with ‘animal damage control,’ citing violations of the California Environmental Quality Act. This division has been killing wild animals and sometimes domestic animals, primarily at the behest of the livestock industry, for the last 100 years. Last year, WS reported 4.4 million animals killed, half of them native species.
In the early years of its killing legacy, the agency, then known as the Bureau of Biological Survey, made no attempt to conceal its goal of predator eradication. Gray wolves were relentlessly hunted until there were no more across most of the continental United States. Wolves were not their only target. Grizzly bears, prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, eagles, mountain lions, bobcats, wolverines, lynx—each of these animals, for various reasons, were declared pests and attempts to exterminate them persisted. Traps, poisons, and bullets were systematically deployed across most of the west. WS trappers and hunters sought and killed every individual of target species they might find.
Shortly after gray wolves were nearly extirpated from the U.S., coyotes became the most heavily targeted predator. Poisoned bait was spread across millions of acres. In a telling example of the indiscriminate nature of WS methods, when magpies ate the poisoned bait before coyotes could get to it (with fatal results), WS began a program of poisoning the inquisitive birds before laying out the poison for Coyotes. Since 2000, WS has killed over a million coyotes, using methods that have been lambasted by scientists, policy makers, and compassionate citizens since the 1920s—aerial gunning, traps, poisons, and the cruel practice of “denning,” in which noxious gases are used on active dens, suffocating or burning the young pups within.
When funds to eradicate these animals became insufficient, WS began the practice of ‘cooperative agreements’ with ranchers, municipalities, states and counties to share the costs of extermination. So began a revenue stream for the agency that last year (FY 2013) brought them just over $116 million. California’s contribution amounted to $7 million.
Two-thirds of California’s counties currently are engaged in cooperative agreements with WS. Although Marin County ended its contract, in favor of their Non-lethal Livestock Protection Plan (now in its fourteenth year of success), and Sonoma County did not renew its contract last year while it develops its own non-lethal program, sadly, both Humboldt and Mendocino counties still maintain contracts with the agency that Congressmember Pete DeFazio has called the “most opaque and obstinate” he’s had to deal with.
Due to concerns relating to Wildlfe Services nationally, allegations of irresponsible trapping locally, and personal experience with WS agents, I started a Change.org petition to call attention to the situation, currently with over 120,000 signatures. Humane resolution of human/wildlife conflicts is a primary part of the Bird Ally X/HWCC mission, a mission we meet every day of the year.
Based on WS’ history of cruelty, excess, lack of transparency and accountability, Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center also recently sent a letter to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, requesting an end to the county agreement with WS. The letter prompted a postponement in the renewal of the contract, to allow time for citizen participation and discussion of the issues involved. This is a hopeful first step. In most prior years, the contract was renewed with no discussion at all.
As EcoNews went to print, Jeff Dolf, Humboldt County’s Agricultural Commissioner, was scheduled to speak at the Board of Supervisors meeting on July 22, with an informational presentation from the agency’s perspective. We hope serious consideration will be given by the board to the development of non-lethal wildlife management alternatives. A decision on the contract may have been made on the WS contract at this meeting.