Advertisement

Congressmen question costs, mission of Wildlife Services agency

The USDA will investigate U.S. Wildlife Services after accusations of reckless predator control, abuse of animals and failure to account for costs.

January 06, 2014|By Julie Cart
  • Coyotes are often targets of U.S. Wildlife Services if they attack cattle or farm animals. But some former agency workers, biologists and members of Congress question the agency's methods and the cost to taxpayers.
Coyotes are often targets of U.S. Wildlife Services if… (Allen J. Schaben…)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's inspector general will investigate a federal agency whose mission is to exterminate birds, coyotes, mountain lions and other animals that threaten the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers.

The investigation of U.S. Wildlife Services is to determine, among other things, "whether wildlife damage management activities were justified and effective." Biologists have questioned the agency's effectiveness, arguing that indiscriminately killing more than 3 million birds and other wild animals every year is often counterproductive.

Reps. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) and John Campbell (R-Irvine) requested the review, calling for a complete audit of the culture within Wildlife Services. The agency has been accused of abuses, including animal cruelty and occasional accidental killing of endangered species, family pets and other animals that weren't targeted.

DeFazio says the time has come to revisit the agency's mission and determine whether it makes economic and biological sense for taxpayers to underwrite a service, however necessary, that he argues should be paid for by private businesses.

Advertisement

"Why should taxpayers, particularly in tough times, pay to subsidize private interests?" said DeFazio, ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources. "I have come to the conclusion that this is an agency whose time has passed."

Wildlife Services was created in 1931 as part of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. It has wide-ranging responsibilities, including rabies testing and bird control at airport runways. But the bulk of its work is exterminating nuisance wildlife by methods that include poisoning, gassing, trapping and aerial gunning.

The agency acts as a pest management service not only for agribusiness and ranches, but also for other federal agencies, counties and homeowners who might have such problems as raccoons in an attic. Other services include protecting endangered species and maintaining game herds for hunters.

The services are free or substantially subsidized, which many private predator- and pest-control companies say unfairly undercuts their business. States and counties complain that they are responsible for an increasing share of the costs.

DeFazio and Campbell are also calling for congressional oversight hearings. DeFazio says he has spent years asking for but not receiving information from Wildlife Services, which he calls "the least accountable federal agency" he has ever seen.

Daily Pilot Articles Daily Pilot Articles
|
|
|