In mid-March, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) released its annual report for its wildlife damage management program, Wildlife Services (WS), detailing the agency’s efforts to resolve human and wildlife conflicts.
The mission of WS is to minimize wildlife conflicts that damage agriculture and industrial resources, pose risks to health and safety, and affect other natural resources. APHIS estimates agricultural losses are $232 million due to livestock depredation and $150 million in bird damage to crops caused by native and invasive wildlife annually. Additionally, estimates of wildlife damage each year due to wildlife strikes cause $625 million in civil aviation loss.
According to the report, in 2020, WS encountered about “22.5 million animals while responding to calls for assistance and dispersed nearly 21 million wildlife from urban, rural and other settings where they were causing damage. Of all wildlife encountered, WS lethally removed 6.7 percent or 1.5 million, in targeted areas to reduce damage.” Of the number of animals lethally removed, 71 percent were invasive species and 29 percent were native species.
WildEarth Guardians, in their press release, called the agency “a notoriously secretive program housed within the USDA,” stating the agency has a preference for the “lethal management of native carnivores like coyotes, wolves, bears, and cougars.”
The environmental organization stated WS removed “62,537 coyotes, 25,400 beavers, 2,527 foxes, 703 bobcats, 434 black bears, 381 gray wolves, 276 cougars and six endangered grizzly bears.” These numbers reflect no change from 2019. The report stated the most significant change in wildlife management numbers was the removal of native avian species such as the red-winged blackbird, grackle and cowbirds. The WS report showed over 840,000 birds were lethally removed in 2020, a decrease from 1.3 million in 2019.
“While at first glance, the overall decrease in the number of native species killed by Wildlife Services is cause for optimism, digging deeper into the report reveals no progress for some of the most persecuted species across the country, including coyotes, black bears, wolves, foxes, and cougars,” Samantha Bruegger, WildEarth Guardians wildlife coexistence campaigner said in the release.
WildEarth Guardians called the use of taxpayer dollars for the lethal removal of these species “appalling and unacceptable.” Instead, the environmental organization is calling for more monies to be spent on nonlethal measures.
“We are hopeful, however, that this 2020 report demonstrates some shift in the culture at WS from reckless and indiscriminate slaughter to prioritizing nonlethal wildlife management practices, at least with respect to certain species. This shift now must carry over to coyotes, bears, wolves, cougars, foxes, and beavers,” Bruegger continued.
In 2020, WS spent $1.8 million on technical assistance and supplies, including fladry, fencing and additional specialist positions.
Additional highlights of the report include:
• WS used $83.9 million in appropriated funds to help manage wildlife damage operations in every state and territory and support special programs, such as managing feral swine damage and rabies in raccoons and other wildlife. WS received an additional $101.6 million in funds from program cooperators, including federal and state agencies, counties, agricultural producer groups and other business organizations;
• Of the monies received, 43 percent was used for field activities to reduce or prevent wildlife hazards, 29 percent was used for protecting agriculture and 28 percent on protecting property and natural resources, including threatened and endangered species;
• WS and its program cooperators protected more than 300 threatened or endangered wildlife and plant species from the impacts of disease, invasive species, and predators;
• Wildlife disease specialists collected almost 40,000 wildlife disease samples to test for 39 different diseases and conditions. Approximately 40 percent were for the National Rabies Management Program. WS also took samples from feral swine for 16 diseases or conditions as well as genetic research;
• Invasive species accounted for 71 percent of all lethally removed wildlife in 2020, including an almost 35 percent increase over 2019 in the number of invasive feral swine removed as part of the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program;
• WS used various methods to control rodents and for plague-vectored flea control in prairie dog tunnels to protect black-footed ferrets. Additionally, the agency removed more than 54,000 dens and burrows of primarily prairie dogs to protect livestock, crops and human health and safety, and
• Where WS used lethal control, the agency “worked to make full use of the resource which includes the donation of 129 tons of goose, deer/elk, and other meat—nearly 1 million servings of protein—for people in need.” — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor