Washington, DC — Even as some federal agencies spend millions to protect wildlife, another federal agency spends millions to kill wildlife in record numbers, according to agency reports released today by two environmental groups, Sinapu and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The number of “nuisance” wildlife destroyed by the federal government rose to more than 2.7 million animals in 2004, an increase of more than a million from 2003.
According to the most recent figures, 2004 was a record year for officially sanctioned destruction of wildlife at taxpayer expense and the first time annual federal wildlife kill numbers exceeded two million. Birds constituted the overwhelming majority of animals exterminated, with starlings registering the greatest single species death total at 2.3 million.
Wildlife Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, responds to requests from ranchers, farmers, and municipalities to remove problem wildlife. Wildlife Services, formerly known as Animal Damage Control, reported the following kill or “take” totals for 2004:
- Mammal deaths include 31,286 beavers, 3,236 opossums, 2,210 prairie dogs, 10,518 raccoons and 1,673 rabbits and hares;
- Bird kill totals include 22,204 crows, ravens and blackbirds, 76,874 pigeons and doves, 10,806 geese and swans, 72 wild turkeys, 15,508 sparrows, and143 free ranging chickens; and
- Native carnivore deaths include 397 black bears, 359 cougars, 75,674 coyotes, 3,907 foxes, and 191 wolves.
“Wildlife Services killed more than five animals per minute in 2004,”said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu. “The toll on ecosystems wrought by this one agency is jaw dropping.”
The method employed by Wildlife Services to kill more than 90% of the animals is poison agents, ranging from strychnine to sodium cyanide. Widespread application of poison often kills “non-target” species, as well. For example, poisons used to eradicate starlings in cattle feedlots also killed owls, hawks, magpies, raccoons and domestic cats. Other methods employed by Wildlife Services include aerial gunning, “denning” (killing animals in their dens), and traps.
“Most of the public has no idea that a significant portion of the federal wildlife management budget is actually devoted to extermination; animals that inconvenience humans become expendable ‘varmints’ that are then dispatched with stunning efficiency,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “With all of our unmet social and infrastructure needs, it is amazing that the federal government finances an entire fleet of aircraft for the purpose of hunting wildlife.”
View the wildlife kill totals for