The Problem with Wildlife Services

What’s the problem with Wildlife Services, a federal agency burrowed deep into the Department of Agriculture?  In the field, it often it seems to be a single mindset: killing. Want an example?  Just take a look at today’s Buffalo Bulletin (from the city of Buffalo, Wyoming).  The Bulletin reports that, last Saturday, a Wildlife Services employee, Jim Pehringer, spoke at the Johnson County Animal Management Board  to ranchers about wolf-livestock conflicts.  Now, to be fair, all I have to go by is the Bulletin’s account of the meeting, but judging from that account it appears that Pehringer’s emphasis was solely on lethal removal (i.e., killing) wolves.  Pehringer is quoted as saying “In the last two years we’ve been able to go into areas with chronic killing and take out whole packs and it stopped the killing in that area” and he emphasized that ““[y]ou need to call us every time you see a wolf. We need your help to help you.”

Nowhere does the paper report Pehringer discussing any of the nonlethal methods that ranchers can use to deter wolves from conflicts with livestock, which range from fladry (using a ropes or wires that have strips of colored flagging all along its length), guard dogs, removing livestock carcasses, and a host of other methods (some of which are outlined here by Defenders of Wildlife).

This is precisely the problem with Wildlife Services.  Despite some valuable research efforts, too often in the field agency employees emphasize lethal methods over nonlethal.  No agency regulation or practice requires Wildlife Services employees to emphasize nonlethal methods with livestock producers, nothing requires them to attempt nonlethal methods first (in fact, the agency has rejected this approach), and much of their killing of wildlife is paid for by your tax dollars and mine.  Nor is this problem confined to wolves, the same reliance on lethal removal plagues the agency’s “control” activities for a host of other predators.

Now, perhaps Pehringer said all of this in his presentation and the Bulletin didn’t report it; I sure hope so, but I doubt it.  One thing is certain, though, until Wildlife Services begins to put more emphasis on nonlethal techniques it will be that much harder for wolf populations in the region to truly recover and for wolves to be legitimately removed from the federal endangered species list. Importantly, effective coexistence practices can also reduce ranchers' conflicts with wolves -- a win win for everyone.

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