The Exterminators (about Wildlife Services)

The Missoula Independent takes a look at Wildlife Services, formerly more transparently named Animal Damage Control (and earlier misnamed the Biological Survey). Wildlife Services is the federal government’s killer of “problem” wildlife. They have been controversial for years, with major opposition emerging to them among scientists as early as 1930.

It is their preemptive (non-targeted killing) that most people find most offensive. In some cases they are beginning to use non-lethal methods of preventing or stopping damage done by wildlife, but there is also a strong backlash among their constituency — ranchers — who would like to see more animal carcasses.

No all ranchers like Wildlife Services, so among ranchers the greatest support comes from the sheep farmers.

The Exterminators. By Jessie McQuillan. Missoula Independent.






  1. jimbob Avatar

    Great article. More national articles like this need to be done in TIME and National Geographic so that the average American is aware of this agency and its policies. One significant item that was not mentioned in the article is the amount of extinctions that PARC or whatever it wants to be called now was responsible for over the years. They were single-handedly responsible for the extinction of Grizzlies in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and a small part of Utah. They also eliminated all wolves from the same states. Even black bears were reduced to practically nothing in Arizona 60 years ago. People were not aware of the organization’s activities or objectives until it was too late and the animals were gone. THAT is what should concern everybody, in addition to the cost. How come you never hear about so-called “conservatives”, who are supposed to hate big government and tax dollars going to subsidies complaining about Wildlife Services?

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I’ve been reading Michael J. Robinson’s book about them — “Predatory Bureaucracy.”

    Where they greatly reduced coyote and fox numbers, there were irruptions in the rodent populations. Their solution for that was still more poison.

    They poisoned and shot bald eagles, hawks, owls, ravens, crows, magpies, jays. They prepoisoned the dead horses and cows they set out. In other words, they set out poison to kill off the scavenging magpies and ravens so that when the more wary wolves and coyotes arrived they would not find the meat made safe because the birds had taken the poison baits, died, and left the carcass poison free.

    It is appalling the toll they took on American wildlife. Unfortunately, they are making a comeback in Wyoming and some other places where the views among the stockgrowers on killing wildlife haven’t changed in 80 years.

  3. Monte Avatar

    There is no doubt this is big government at its worst. I really think this agency flies under most people’s radar, probably intentionally. What a terrible waste of the taxpayers money. If you want to raise sheep on your own land, kill your own coyotes. If you want to graze public land, accept the risks, otherwise do something else. The fact that this agency even exists is preposterous. Coyotes are fair game any time of year with any weapon in virtually all western states on public and private land, and they may be trapped as well.

  4. elkhunter Avatar

    I know, its great. Coyotes are a great challenge. But really hunting and trapping them is usually only done early spring and winter. Other times of the year its very hard.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    An irony I discovered in reading Robinson’s book was that bounty hunters and coyote trappers (and other kinds of trappers) were one of the first interests to try to bring this agency to moderate its course (its course was complete extermination of almost every mammal that any rancher or farmer might complain about).

  6. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    I am going to comment on this line from the article:

    “John Helle, a rancher with a sizable sheep operation near Dillon, says he couldn’t stay afloat if it weren’t for Wildlife Services’ help.

    “They’re critical for the survival of the sheep industry—they perform an enormous role by protecting us from predators,” he says.”

    So…let me see if I understand this: you raise sheep, you use public lands at a subsidized cost, and if it weren’t for even MORE federal welfare, you couldn’t be in business?

    I’m sorry, but this is a very poor business model by any standard. Relying on government services to stay in business is just no way to stay in the red.

    I’m really tired of hearing about the ranching industry’s power. I myself am moving towards becoming a rancher, and I tell you what, I will advocate that the industry not have as much power as it has had historically. This is an industry that has waged war (sheep wars, late 1800s), and been just about the biggest influence on many states’ laws and even their creation.

    This is also an industry that has been so reliant upon government subsidy, immigrant labor, and conservative attitudes, that it has seen almost no advancements in efficiency since its inception in the United States in the early 1800s. In fact, in many ways, it has gone backwards (from longhorn to angus.)

    I do agree with the sentiment of John Malvo, his organization’s desire to remove all grazing from public lands; and I certainly understand the underlying reason for his beliefs. But there are other solutions; a middle ground if you will. We can not solve an extreme problem with opposite extremes. We can neither rely on tradition, nor eliminate the industry altogether. Ranching can be a viable, productive, self sustaining, and sustainable industry; one which doesn’t rely on Wildlife Services to wield its gun, and kill wildlife which has more right to the lands than the sheep and cattle they are killed to protect.

  7. Monte Avatar

    Mike, I bet at least 90% of the people in the U.S. agree with you about public lands grazing and Wildlife Services. The more light that is shined on this issue, the better. I think the problem is the lack of exposure to this agency. I’ll bet half the people in urban areas of this country have no idea what Wildlife Services is and what they do. Here’s hoping for more coverage.

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