What it does is compete with private industry to kill animals: black bears, beavers, porcupines, river otters, mountain lions, coyotes—lots of coyotes—and more. Often in a brutal fashion. The federal agency, which shouldn’t be confused with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service, killed 4 million animals in 2013. A Washington Post headline said that millions of dead animals would be “Seen as an Overstep by Some.”
Last week, a coalition of animal rights and conservation groups filed a lawsuit (pdf), demanding that Mendocino County stop contracting with the agency to kill hundreds of animals. The lawsuit, filed in Mendocino County Superior Court, claims the county illegally failed to conduct an environmental review of the impact the predator program would have.
Critics of Wildlife Service cite peer-reviewed research that the slaughter of native predators can destroy a habitat’s ecological balance. The lawsuit seeks a review that considers alternatives to inhumane eradication and a method that doesn’t result in thousands of innocent pets being indiscriminately whacked along with the original targets.
A three-part series by the Sacramento Bee a few years ago detailed horrific practices that the agency used to fulfill its contracts with more than 2,500 clients. Those customers have included ranchers, prisons, country clubs, airports and federal agencies, as well as BP, Chevron, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, Ford and Toyota, Walt Disney World, Wells Fargo and Pfizer.
Wildlife Services Deputy Administrator William Clay told the Bee that the agency considered nonlethal alternatives, but they weren’t often applicable. “Generally when we get a call, it's because farmers and ranchers are having livestock killed immediately. They are being killed daily. Our first response is to try to stop the killing and then implement nonlethal methods.”
The lawsuit would like them to consider the nonlethal methods first.
They were more successful 14 years ago when Marin County ended its contract with Wildlife Services and pursued nonlethal methods of containing critters. But that is the exception, rather than the rule. The number of exterminated animals nationwide continues to rise.
Some incarnation of Wildlife Services has been killing animals since 1915, when they hunted wolves in Nevada. President Hoover gave them an agency of their own in 1931. But the nation’s environmental sensibility has changed since then, especially in California, where the landmark California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires state and local agencies to conduct a review whenever a project is likely to have a significant environmental impact.
The lawsuit would like the county to set aside its contract with Wildlife Services and perform the requisite Environmental Impact Review (EIR).