Washington, DC — The U.S. Department of Agriculture should stop sending its people up in aircraft to shoot coyotes, according to a petition filed with the agency by 27 conservation organizations. Pointing to two more deaths this month, the organizations argue that aerial gunning, as the practice is known, is excessively dangerous, demonstrably wasteful and biologically counterproductive.
On June 1, 2007, two federal agriculture agents died when their plane crashed during an aerial gunning trip in Wayne County, Utah. Pilot Joseph Harris and gunner Glen Stevenson routinely flew on aerial hunts. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
This brings the death total to 11, as well as 27 injuries, from aerial gunning accidents.
The groups contend that aerial gunning is inherently risky because pilots are often distracted, flying at low altitudes with little margin for error. In the 27 recorded plane or helicopter crashes, pilots have flown into power lines, trees and land formations.
“As a wildlife management tool, aerial gunning makes as much sense as using tactical nuclear weapons to root out prairie dogs,” stated Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). “USDA needs to take this latest tragedy to heart and rethink the wisdom of this entire program.”
Aerial gunning is part of a $100 million a year USDA program called Wildlife Services that kills more than 1.5 million animals a year. In 2005, Wildlife Services claims to have killed 34,056 animals by aerial gunning, including badgers, bobcats, red foxes, grey wolves and even domestic housecats.
The groups also argue that the coyote hunts do not provide relief to ranchers as studies show that the coyotes compensate by either bearing larger litters or permitting more animals in the pack to breed.
“Killing coyotes ironically results in more of them – they’ve figured out how to adapt to over 100 years of extermination campaigns thrown at them,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu noting that the strafing operations are supposed to protect livestock from predation. “There are a whole range of less dangerous, less expensive and more effective means for controlling coyotes than calling in the Air Force.”
The groups signing the petition to USDA also include: AGRO: A Coalition to End Aerial Gunning of Wildlife; Alaska Wildlife Alliance; Animal Defense League of Arizona; Animal Welfare Institute; Big Wildlife; Biodiversity Conservation Associates; Center for Biological Diversity; Center for Native Ecosystems; Cougar Fund; Forest Guardians; Great Old Broads for Wilderness; Great Plains Restoration Council; Humane Society of the United States; In Defense of Animals; The Larch Company; Mountain Cats Trust; Oregon Natural Desert Association; Prairie Preservation Alliance; Predator Conservation Alliance; Predator Defense Institute; PEER; Sagebrush Sea Campaign; Sierra Club; Sinapu; Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project; Western Watersheds Project; Wildlife Damage Review