WASHINGTON— The arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture known as Wildlife Services reported killing 433,192 native animals in 2020, according to new data released by the program this week.
This is a dramatic drop from 2019, when the program killed approximately 1.3 million native animals. The red-winged blackbird is one example of a species with fewer individuals killed by Wildlife Services, with 30,836 killed in 2020 and 364,734 killed in 2019.
“I’m hopeful that this decline in killing reflects some real reform of this barbaric program,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Communities across the country have for years demanded change from Wildlife Services. That’s in line with science showing that killing carnivores like coyotes to benefit big agribusiness just leads to more conflicts and more killing.”
The multimillion-dollar federal wildlife-killing program targets wolves, coyotes, cougars, birds and other wild animals for destruction, primarily to benefit the agriculture industry in states like Texas, Colorado and Idaho.
According to the latest report, the federal program last year intentionally killed 381 gray wolves; 62,537 adult coyotes; 434 black bears; 276 mountain lions; 685 bobcats; 196 river otters (plus 511 killed “unintentionally”); 2,527 foxes; and 25,400 beavers. These figures almost certainly underestimate the actual number of animals killed, as program insiders have revealed that Wildlife Services kills many more animals than it reports.
Additionally, the wildlife-killing program unintentionally killed more than 2,688 animals in 2020, including bears, bobcats, mountain lions, foxes, muskrats, otters, porcupines, raccoons, deer and turtles, according to the latest data. Its killing of non-target birds included ducks, sparrows, swallows, herons and turkeys.
Dozens of domestic animals, including pets and livestock, were also killed or caught. Such data reveals the indiscriminate nature of leghold traps, snares, poisons and other methods used by federal agents.
In 2020 Wildlife Services poisoned 7,691 animals using M-44 cyanide bombs. Of these deaths, 218 were unintentional, including those of a black bear, five dogs and dozens of foxes. Its use of M-44s has declined slightly since 2019, when the program used M-44s to kill 8,200 animals.
“Ecologically important and intelligent animals like wolves shouldn’t be suffering and dying from poisons and in strangulation snares and cruel leghold traps,” Adkins said. “Effective non-lethal tools exist to prevent most conflicts with wildlife. We’re doing everything we can to shut down taxpayer-funded slaughter by the Wildlife Services program.”
Last year, litigation or community opposition curtailed Wildlife Services operations in numerous states, including California, Idaho and Washington, as well as localities such as Humboldt County and Minneapolis.