Responding to Congressional requests and well over a hundred thousand letters from the public, the Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General confirmed today that it plans to conduct an audit of the USDA’s controversial Wildlife Services predator control program. Every year, at a cost of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, Wildlife Services uses traps, poisons and guns to kill over 100,000 native carnivores such as bears, wolves, coyotes, and mountain lions. The audit, which is planned for 2014, will examine the following topics:
- determine whether wildlife damage management activities were justified and effective;
- assess the controls over cooperative agreements;
- assess Wildlife Services’ information system for reliability and integrity; and
- follow-up on the implementation of prior audit recommendations, such as the accountability over hazardous materials and equipment.
This audit is a much-needed development, one that will hopefully shed light on the long-documented problems with Wildlife Services’ behavior. The first two items listed above are particularly noteworthy.
First, as NRDC documented in our report, Fuzzy Math, much of Wildlife Services’ activities are justified by flawed cost-benefit reports that are inconsistent with economic analysis guidelines used by most federal agencies and omit the economic values to society of native wildlife. Having the USDA’s Inspector General take a careful and independent look at the program’s self-justifications is therefore crucial to making smart decisions about how the federal government spends its limited resources.
Second, Wildlife Services’ “cooperator” agreements (arrangements through which local governments and private associations cover about half of the agency’s expenses) can’t help but distort Wildlife Services’ behavior. Indeed, it creates a vicious circle all around: local governments and private ranchers have little incentive to try nonlethal methods of predator control when they can buy federal lethal control at a fifty-percent discount; as for Wildlife Services’, its budget and staffing quickly becomes captive to securing cooperator agreements. Thus, an agency which should be serving the public interest gets transformed into a private pest control business, operating on the public dole and often unnecessarily killing native, ecologically valuable, wildlife. An audit that takes a fresh look at these arrangements could provide an important check on the distorting effects of cooperator agreements.
As the Inspector General’s audit moves forward, NRDC and our allies – including the Humane Society of the United States, which has led the call for an audit by the Inspector General’s office – looks forward to providing all the information we can to the USDA.