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Film Fest: Wild Things

March 21, 2013

Nope, not more news about Blackfish.

But I wanted to take note of this documentary about the obscure Wildlife Service department of USDA, which every year kills 100,000 coyotes, bobcats, foxes, wolves, bears, and mountain lions. Two of the methods favored: baits traps containing spring-loaded poison cartridges, which shoot sodium cyanide into an animal’s mouth, and shooting animals from aircraft.

It’s not exactly what you would call living in harmony with the natural world.

OnEarth explains:

“It’s blatant killing,” former Wildlife Services employee Gary Strader says in the film, explaining the mindset of the agency where he used to work. “It’s just flying around — there’s a coyote, let’s kill it. There’s a coyote, let’s kill it. Let’s kill it, let’s kill it. You know, it’s just every coyote they see, they’re gonna kill it.”

And that’s just what the agency does on purpose. A Sacramento Beeinvestigation last year found that Wildlife Services has also accidentally killed more than 50,000 animals since 2000, including bald eagles, endangered wolverines, family dogs, and several species considered threatened or imperiled by wildlife biologists. And 10 plane crew members have died in crashes since 1989 during aerial gunning operations, including two in 2007, the Bee reports.

What’s the point of all this death and destruction? The Department of Agriculture says it’s spending about $30 million a year to protect commercial livestock from coyotes, wolves, and other predators. (It’s harder to argue with some of Wildlife Services’ other roles, like controlling rabies and removing geese from airport runways — although some people object to lethal measures there, as well.) The economic case for killing predators to protect livestock is pretty shaky, though. A 2001 Governmental Accountability Office report could find no independent studies of the costs and benefits associated with Wildlife Services, and it urged the agency to develop more nonlethal means of protecting livestock, including wildlife contraceptives and scare devices triggered by motion sensors.

The scientific argument for lethal control is even worse. As the Bee reports, a growing body of scientific research has found that by killing predators in such large numbers, Wildlife Services is “altering ecosystems in ways that diminish biodiversity, degrade habitat, and invite disease.”

More info here.

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