5 Million Animals on the USDA Hit List


The Wildlife Services unit killed 89,300 coyotes in FY2008.

I got to do a story for New York Magazine this week, pointing out how the 400 geese killed in Prospect Park recently were just the most visible part of the millions of animals this obscure branch of the USDA kills each year, usually in the name of crop or livestock damage, but also for dubious reasons–like squirrels or sandhill cranes being a threat to homes, cars or pets.

The $121 million agency killed 4,997,172 animals in FY2008, the last year they’ve posted. That works out to a little about $24 an animal, though I’d imagine it’s pretty cheap to kill off the million or so starlings (at feedlots). The four endangered Mexican gray wolves they shot in 2007 were probably more expensive.

The problem, according to John Hadidian, director of Urban Wildlife programs for the Humane Society of the United States, is that the agency gets funded on a project-by-project basis so it has an incentive to keep finding reasons to kill animals:  “If you make money killing animals, you don’t want to stop making money, therefore you continue to kill.” Non-lethal methods for controlling animals like Canada geese work, but it’s a constant effort and it requires you to put some value on treating animals humanely, he says. It’s kind of like Upton Sinclair said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary dependson his not understanding it.”

Gregg Feigelson, chairman of Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese, says that wildlife managers dismiss people who just want to see animals in favor of those who want to hunt them or raise them as livestock. “That’s a valid activity, too,” he says.
Will the commission take into account the way New Yorkers would not like to have their park geese rounded up and gassed?  Not likely. The WS advisory committee voted 7-6 in 2009 not to “involve the public in policy decisions…of interest to the American public.”

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