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In summary, we believe that current science does not support much of (U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Service’s) lethal control of native mammals, that it is wasteful and often counterproductive (e.g., inducing various forms of predator release, and causing increased densities and disease prevalence in prey populations, resulting in habitat degradation). — Michael Mares, president, American Society of Mammalogists

The Internet is abuzz with a series of articles by Sacramento Bee journalist Tom Knudson. The series exposes the heavy and inflexible lethal emphasis of the federal Wildlife Services program. Wildlife Services is a branch of the Department of Agriculture that pairs hunters’ and trappers’ desire to kill natural predators and increase game animals for trophy kill with serving ranchers and farmers.

The Sacramento Bee series describes how Wildlife Services started in 1915 to increase beef production during the war, zealously targeting wildlife from prairie dogs to grizzly bears, wolves to mountain lions. It dropped strychnine from airplanes and shot eagles from helicopters. It laced carcasses with a poison called 1080 that raced through the food chain, bringing indiscriminate torture and death. It was famous for killing nontarget species and wolf pups in dens. Coyotes and wolves were hung along fence posts all over the West. Mountains of mountain lion heads remain shameful images — yet irrational predator carnage continues.

The Taylor Grazing Act of the 1930s sealed the deal, sacrificing our federal public lands in leases, 10 cents on the dollar, in perpetuity, to ranchers who set up feedlots, destroyed the wildlife, emptied the aquifers, and desertified the land. They also established a powerful political voting bloc to wield devastation on wildlife. It was a death plan for the West, all subsidized by tax dollars.

Beef, it’s what’s for dinner. With a large side of wildlife slaughter.

Wisconsin’s state wildlife agency serves the same masters as the federal. Our Department of Natural Resources, structured on killing licenses, is expanding killing pressure everywhere, rapidly regressing further into massive destruction of predators, expanding trapping into more public lands, continuing the slaughter of thousands of young bears, and preparing to allow packs of dogs to be run on wolves. A statewide year-round slaughter of coyotes perpetuates the outdated, anti-scientific agenda of the DNR. Ecosystem health be damned.

Michael Mares of the prestigious American Society of Mammologists said: “We see little evidence that the focus or practices of WS (Wildlife Services) regarding native mammals have changed substantially from its progenitor agencies in the Bureau of Biological Survey 100 years ago.” He went on to expound on the value of intact ecosystems with their apex predators and the systemic ecological damage done in destroying them. He also said, “WS’s ongoing record of lethal control stands in stark contrast to this growing consensus among ecologists.”

As does the Wisconsin DNR’s record of lethal control.

By Wildlife Services’ own kill data from fiscal years 2000 through 2010, its agents killed more than 2 million native wild mammals in the United States in those 11 years, including 915,868 coyotes, 321,051 beavers, 126,257 raccoons, 83,606 skunks, nearly 70,000 ground squirrels, 50,682 red and gray foxes, 43,640 prairie dogs, 29,484 opossums, 25,336 marmots and woodchucks, 19,111 muskrats, 4,559 bears, 4,052 mountain lions, and 3,066 endangered gray wolves, nearly all intentionally. In 2010, alone, WS killed over 5 million animals, birds, and reptiles, using taxpayer dollars.

In Wisconsin the federal Wildlife Service unintentionally killed badgers, bears, bobcats, deer, dogs, mallards, bald eagles, raccoons, red foxes, skunks, great blue herons, porcupines, river otters and turtles. The interactive graphic developed by the Sacramento Bee reveals how the Wildlife Service intentionally killed bears, beavers, red-winged blackbirds, coots, deer, wood ducks, American kestrel falcons, Cooper’s hawks, red-tailed hawks, killdeers, Eastern meadowlarks, great horned owls, robins, skunks, house sparrows, ground squirrels, barn swallows, and gray wolves, all in 2010.

The USDA’s Wildlife Service supplements its income with funding from ranchers, farmers and other “co-operators” – financial relationships some say should be re-examined and ended because they result in destruction of native species. It is money badly spent. More livestock die of disease and horrible living conditions than the predators the Wildlife Service presumably target. Natural predation is minimal and more effectively addressed with electric fencing and guard dogs or llamas. The scientific protocol now promotes public education and nonlethal methods, leaving natural systems intact.

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Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense, an Oregon nonprofit, is quoted in one of the Sacramento Bee stories as saying, “It’s an inherent conflict of interest to have private organizations and individuals funding a federal agency. They are buying influence. They are buying a federal agency.”

The same can be said of killing licenses as the main funding of wildlife management here in Wisconsin. Hunters, trappers, and hounders bought our state agency long ago — and along with it, our wildlife and public lands for killing.

“People want to see bears. They want to see wolves. They want to see mountain lions. It’s part of the natural heritage of the United States,” said the American Society of Mammalogists’ Mares. “We should be stewards of the system, not wiping out species and damaging ecosystems.”

In March, Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., proposed H.R. 4214 to ban two of the Wildlife Services’ most toxic tools: spring-loaded sodium-cyanide cartridges known as M-44s that fire a burst of poison into the mouth of whatever tugs on them, and Compound 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate). You can support this bill by going to Wisconsin Wildlife Ethic’s website to ask your federal representative to co-sponsor and sign on.

Patricia Randolph of Portage is a longtime activist for wildlife.

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