Why Is the Wildlife Services Administrator So Proud?


                                                 (C) Fish and Wildlife Service

Kevin Shea, the Administrator of the USDA’s Animal Plants and Health Inspect Services, which houses “Wildlife Services” — a program responsible for killing millions of animals a year —released a letter defending his agency yesterday.

According to Shea, while he has had a few opportunities over the last few years to counter negative publicity regarding his agency, he hasn’t “been able to write as much to defend Wildlife Services as [he'd] like . . .”

My question is: what’s there to defend?

While Administrator Shea asserts that false information has been used to vilify his agency, the information he cites is actually true.

For example:

  • The letter asserts that predators represent a very small percentage of the animals Wildlife Services removes each year. While it’s true that the number of predators Wildlife Services does not match the number of birds it kills, this often-repeated statement obscures the real problem: Wildlife Services’ own reporting indicates that it kills 98% of the big carnivores like wolves, foxes, bears, and mountain lions that it interacts with.
  • The letter asserts that Wildlife Services is “fully transparent about all of [its] work—both lethal and nonlethal.” But examples showing otherwise are endless. A recently leaked audit shows that Wildlife Services recently lost $12 million dollars—it simply can’t find it.  NRDC’s report Fuzzy Math shows that "most economic analyses of predator control done by Wildlife Services ...are inconsistent with economic analysis guidelines used by most federal agencies," and often contain fundamental accounting errors. And, as they’ll tell you themselves, even Reps. DeFazio and Campbell have repeatedly been denied information they’ve requested from Wildlife Services.
  • The letter states that Wildlife Services is comprised of wildlife professionals who are “fully accountable to Congress and the public, comply with all laws, and are dedicated to preserving native ecosystems.” He can’t be talking about Jamie Olson, who posted pictures on Twitter (taken while on official duty) of his hunting dogs mauling a coyote caught in a leg-hold trap or Russell Files who intentionally captured his neighbor’s dog in multiple leg-hold traps, also while on duty. And he can’t be talking about the supervisors of the former Wildlife Services employees in films like NRDC’s Wild Things and Predator Defense’s Exposed, who were instructed not to report nontarget kills—in the words of one, to “shoot, shovel, and shut up.” So who is he talking about exactly?
  • The letter asserts that the agency's National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) devotes the majority of its research funding to the development or improvement of nonlethal wildlife damage management tools and methods. However, NWRC’s accomplishments report for 2013, lists only 2 studies focused on nonlethal predator control out of its 15 research projects for 2013 and less than 10 research papers on the subject out of over 100.
  • The letter asserts that the numbers of animals killed are a very small percentage of their overall populations in the United States and that Wildlife Services is not endangering any native wildlife population in our country. But that’s not true. For example, this spring, a Wildlife Services employee killed a Mexican Wolf. There are only about 83 Mexican wolves left in the wild, so the removal of each and every individual has a huge impact on the population. Moreover, since when is whether a federal agency is killing so many animals that it is endangering the entire population the relevant test of the ecological harm they may be causing?

To be fair, NRDC agrees that some of the work Wildlife Services does—such as invasive species control—is important to preserving our natural resources. But when it comes to their predator control program, you’ve got to wonder…based on all of the above, what Shea is so proud of?

About the Authors

Elly Pepper

Wildlife Advocate, Land & Wildlife program

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