US Wildlife Services, an arm of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), killed around 1.2 million wild animals last year, including hundreds of wolves, black bears, and cougars, along with thousands of foxes, bobcats, and prairie dogs, and tens of thousands of beavers, according to a new report. Needless to say, conservationists are not happy with the lengthy death toll, arguing that North America’s iconic wildlife is being “needlessly” killed using taxpayers’ money.
The new data was released by the USDA this week showing the number of animals that were either killed, euthanized, freed, and relocated by Wildlife Services in the US over the course of 2019. This included:
- Over 62,000 coyotes
- Over 24,500 beavers
- 800 bobcats
- Over 1,300 gray foxes
- Over 1,200 red foxes
- 400 black bears
- Over 300 gray wolves
- Over 300 cougars
- Over 18,000 brown tree snakes
- 31 bald eagles
- Over 10,000 black vultures
- Over 360,000 red-winged blackbirds
- Over 25,000 Canadian geese
- A single grizzly bear
Along with accidental deaths, under 3,000 were recorded as killed unintentionally.
Some of the animals were invasive species, such as Caimans or European hares, that potentially cause harm to ecosystems or native populations, thereby threatening to upset the ecosystem's balance, and are annually culled. However, it appears that a large number of the animals were non-invasive species that were actively culled, primarily to benefit the agriculture industry in states like Texas, Colorado, and Idaho. Some conservationists argue that these culls are often carried out on outdated data using unnecessarily cruel methods.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has condemned the report’s findings, highlighting that nearly 8,200 animals were poisoned by Wildlife Services using M-44 cyanide bombs last year. These devices are designed to kill coyotes, feral dogs, and foxes, although they can kill indiscriminately if set off by an animal, including pets and endangered species. Other controversial methods include leghold traps, strangulation snares, aerial gunning from helicopters and planes, and poison gases.
“Year after year Wildlife Services continues to needlessly kill wildlife, even though effective tools exist to prevent most conflicts,” Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the CBD, said in a statement. “The scientific consensus is that killing carnivores like coyotes to benefit the livestock industry just leads to more conflicts and more killing. This taxpayer-funded slaughter needs to stop.”
WildEarth Guardians, a conservation organization based in Santa Fe, announced on Thursday it has filed a lawsuit against Wildlife Services for their wildlife-killing program in New Mexico, which has relied on outdated studies and data from the 1970s and '80s. They argue that Wildlife Services need to halt or curtail their culling programs until they're reviewed and backed up by a robust and updated environmental analysis.
“Wildlife Services is infamous for the scope and cruelty of its killing campaigns across the nation,” Chris Smith, southern Rockies wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement. “To carry out such a horrific onslaught on native wildlife in the midst of a mass extinction event and a climate crisis, without any real knowledge of the impact, is utterly outrageous.”
The number is actually slightly down from the year before, when 1.5 million animals were killed in 2018.