Wildlife Services: The ugly economy of killing wildlife

The ugly economy of killing wildlife. Writers on the Range in High Country News. By Lisa Upson and Wendy Keefover-Ring.

Predator control looks a lot different on the ground. Writers on the Range in High Country News. By Bonnie (Kline is the is executive director of the Colorado Wool Growers Association)






  1. Jon Way Avatar

    I wonder if Bonnie Kline votes republican and if she does does she partly do it b.c she hates welfare and government handouts to people…. If yes, just look at her comments in the article. She is asking the same thing in her editorial for our livestock raising friends.

  2. Linda Hunter Avatar

    I read both the articles about Wildlife Services. Bonnie Kline lost my respect by asking if Americans want mice in their houses. . of course, if you kill all the coyotes on a ranch or farm you are going to have mice move in with you. The traditional lifestyle of farming and ranching hands down methods and practices over the years that are destructive and short sighted. Without considering the ramifications of it they kill or wipe out any animals who they have traditionally considered pests without looking to see if there is new science or new ways of working with the problem. Then at public meetings we hear “I have lived here on this land all my life and my grandfather moved here in 1890” . . which means they need to get a new education, not that we need to give them automatic respect.

  3. Brian Ertz Avatar

    it continues to baffle me that an industry so transparently and admittedly at odds with the natural world is allowed this space to whine about being unable to conduct its business without government extermination programs that rid and manipulate our children’s public lands of wildlife using the next generation’s dime to do it (our children’s money mind you – we’re running a deficit). Bonnie’s apologetic stats on M44’s would be laughable if they weren’t so tragic. These M44s are chemical agents that are a threat to America’s wildlife, Americans’ pets, are non-selective and Bonnie fails her own test of omission when she leaves out the horrific description of how these chemicals produce the livestock industry’s desired result. Wikipedia:

    It lures predators with an attractive smell, often from a small piece of bait, then uses a spring to propel a dosage of sodium cyanide into the predators mouth. The sodium cyanide combines with water in the mouth to produce poisonous cyanide gas.

    It gases the animals from the inside out. It’s disgusting, immoral, dangerous and we’re paying for it. How’s that for omission Bonnie ?

    The livestock industry has plenty of media outlets with which to peddle its cowboy myths, I am sorry to continue to see HCN’s continued complacency – especially in a media environment in dire need of critical objectivity with regard to the public lands livestock industry’s destructively subsidized exploitation of America’s environmental heritage. I encourage the publication to give thought to the difference between the journalistic standard of ‘balance’ and of ‘objectivity’ … we’re not getting either.

  4. Brian Ertz Avatar

    p.s. Lisa Upson and Wendy Keefover-Ring’s piece is wonderful and too far-and-few-between w/ hcn

  5. Ryan Avatar

    By killing coyotes, it doesn’t mean that you will end up with less mice in your house. Its painfully obivious that many of the posters on this site have never lost pets or stock to coyotes. Losing your puppy in braod daylight while you watch will change how you feel about coyotes.. Trust me. I have lost pets, goats, sheep, and chickens to coyotes.
    As for the m44, its a very humane way to kill predators causing instant death.

    Many feel the same way with tax money being spent on wolf reintroduction as you feel about wildlife services. This does provide a service to the american public by allowing us to have cheap food, something we all enjoy. Remember what you consider immoral and disgusting is not how everyone feels. I would be willing to guess that showing a video of dog, a lamb, or a little child (rare I know) being ripped apart while its still alive by coyotes would be immoral and disgusting to many as well.


  6. Brian Ertz Avatar


    a lot of that money was spent on WS kill programs and otherwise unnecessary expenses – i.e. to fulfill the wishes of Livestock.


    the first dog I ever cared for was lost to coyotes in SE AZ. my father referred to it as ‘the desert took poncho’ (the name of our beautiful and loyal cocker spaniel). He died while overcome by probably one of most potent expressions of wild left in a domesticated animal – the territorial instinct to defend. i’ve had more than one cat die as well – though it was likely raccoons or other cats. i don’t understand the need to feel resentment about that. it’s what happens – especially when the domestic animals are fortunate enough to spend their time in open spaces. i dunno, i guess my mourning each of the events was helped along by a feeling of acceptance, maybe/hopefully even the humility and awe i saw in my father’s response. it seems that others are helped along by holding onto resentment and the need revenge or the illusion of control.

    gasing wild animals, especially when it’s so non-selective and dangerous to others (public lands) to achieve that revenge/resentment/illusory feeling of control is wrong.

  7. Brian Ertz Avatar


    as to your suggestion that predator control somehow reduces the cost of food.

    a) you’re wrong – re-read the Upson & Keefover-Ring article concerning market trends.

    b) it’s not the job of the government to make those decisions, it ought be the job of the consumer to make a choice based on the actual representation of the cost reflected in the market.

    c) the food isn’t any cheaper – the cost is just externalized in taxes. everyone’s just forced to contribute to paying for that decision by paying taxes to kill the predators instead of being given the market choice of opting into or out of the actual cost of a particular food choice – and robbed the opportunity of their value choice being represented in the market about whether or not pay for gassing/slaughter of wildlife and wild places.

  8. Nathan Hobbs Avatar

    Personally I would rather encounter a coyote anyday while cycling the country than a dog that is not fenced or chained chasing after me.

    I have little sympathy for those who lose a pet in the country to wild animals. Protect it with a enclosure of sorts or shutup

    It made me sick to my stomach when I discovered what wildlife services does in the name of agriculture. i can understand some management but it seems there efforts go beyond that and reach into extermination.

  9. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    “As for M44, it is a very humane way to kill predators causing instant death.”

    Ryan–If one of your beloved pets is ailing and you decide it’s time to take ol’ Fido to the vet to be euthinized, ask the Vet to use M44, and make a video so people can see that it’s a humane way to kill critters. Ought to be a real hit on YouTube.

  10. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    Well, well,well, Bonnie Kline is still around. I met her(unfortunately) a few years ago when she was on the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Wolf Working Group. Of all of the anti-wolf representatives, she was the most venomous. She verbally attacked anyone, public included, that did not agree with her line of thinking. This article told me that she has not changed. I think the Colorado Wool Growers would probably gain a lot more victories if they did not have such a confrontational director.


  11. JB Avatar

    Wildlife Services needs to be re-imagined. I support the valuable research of WS; I even support control of problem animals–when there is a legitimate threat to human life. However, WS needs to move toward non-lethal methods wherever/whenever possible and away from the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ philosophy that currently dominates. More importantly, if we’re going to spend taxpayer money to kill wildlife, I’d much prefer to spend it eliminating non-native species than subsidizing agriculture.

  12. Linda Hunter Avatar

    Ryan do you usually read backwards. . I said if you kill coyotes you will not have less mice. . which translated to more straightforward English means if you want to not be invaded by mice DON’T kill coyotes. Coyotes are cool animals who do a job no one else wants to do. . as far as eating pets, I hate to sound cold hearted but in my neighborhood where city people often drop off their unwanted cats and assorted bunnies, chicks, and dogs we welcome seeing coyote tracks.

  13. Catbestland Avatar

    I live amidst many coyotes and I have pets. I make sure my pets are supervised and are in the house at dark. Pet ownership requires responsibility especially in predator territory. I am willing to accept the risk of them being taken by coyotes. However, I don’t think they are going to tangle with my 130 pound Rottwieller. I am more frightened that they will succumb to M44s than to coyotes. Ryan, you are sadly mis-informed if you think that cyanide poisoning is humane. If it were, why don’t they use it to euthanize animals? You got your mis-information from Wildlife dis-Services, I presume.

  14. Ryan Avatar

    I completely agree that pet ownership requires responisbility. We have a zero tolerance policy for free running cats and dogs and the properties that I lease. That being said I have lost a cat in my driveway and watched a coyote kill a friends lab puppy less that 40ft from our tent in broad daylight. Combine that with countless chickens, geese, a few sheep, and couple of goats over my lifetime and it hasn’t reall left me with a warm fuzzy feeling for them.

  15. Ryan Avatar

    I have read several sides of the M44 debate. They are very effecitve and usually kill in under 3 minutes, but having them spread all over public land may not be the best idea unless dealing with specific problem animals. As unpopular as this may sound, arial gunning has much fewer non target casualties and as long as it is done by a skilled marksman it is humane.

  16. Eileen Avatar

    I had to double check this, but economically, it is difficult to comprehend how this agency continues to exist.

    A budget of more than $100 million to kill more than a million animals – mostly birds.

    So, this agency spends $80 to $100 to kill one bird – I suspect mostly blackbirds and starlings.

    Hard to see how this is justified economically, let alone ethically and biologically. There must be a better way to spend this money.

  17. Debra K Avatar
    Debra K

    Bonnie Kline also glossed over that much of Wildlife Services’ “work” is done on public lands. Ranchers should have some degree of control over predators on their private lands–but still with some restrictions, since this is the public’s wildlife they want to kill–such as a requirement to use best management practices, like guard animals, sheds, etc.

    When it comes to public lands, Wildlife Services should have no role, except in the case of public safety (dispatching a rabid coyote or the like). Sheep producers only pay $1.35 per month to graze 5 ewes plus however many lambs each ewe has (twin lambs are common now), so they can get 15 animals (5 ewes, 10 lambs) fed on public forage for a month for a little over a buck!

    Between the low grazing fee and Wildlife Services, public lands sheep producers are very heavily subsidized, and still complain about how hard it is to make a go of it. Get a clue, Bonnie and your compadres, try a different line of work or a different way of producing sheep that doesn’t involve killing our wildlife and degrading public lands.

  18. dbaileyhill Avatar

    Ryan wrote;
    “Losing your puppy in broad daylight while you watch will change how you feel about coyotes”.
    **Ryan I am not picking on you, nor am i trying to provoke an argument. I have had pets over the years and i have been very attached to each one. The death of a pet can be like losing a member of one’s family. Your quote reminded me of historical facts, and my own observations about a particular human behaviors and/or patterns.
    For some people this ‘rationale’ has become like an involuntary reflex. It’s also a convenient excuse to pass the buck, so to speak. Women who won’t take the responsibility for making a bad decision/mistake regarding men, will say all men are pigs, therefore i have a right to mistreat them. Men also do this.
    People will just automatically find someone or something to be the scapegoat, because it definitely wasn’t their own doing. It’s always someone else’s fault.
    A coyote kills a pet, so it was the coyote’s fault, therefore all coyotes are bad and need to be killed.
    That is the justification for exterminating various species.
    Here is a very brief list of victims; Native Americans, Jewish, Arab, African American, many different races. Persons who look “different”, bikers, differing cultures, religions, pit bulls, etc. It just goes on and on and on. If there is something, anything, that somewhere someone dislikes, you can bet that they will create a “reason’, a rationale, a fabricated tale, to justify their bad behavior.
    At times I am inclined to believe this has become ingrained in our society. Unfortunately, the current admin in DC, has been an exemplary example of this practice.

  19. JB Avatar

    DBH – It’s not ingrained in our society, it’s part of our psyche. It’s easier on our fragile egos to put the blame on another and look at the most proximate cause–as opposed to the root cause–of a particular problem.

    For example, it is easy to blame the obesity epidemic on the very people who are affected; we say, “they made poor choices about diet and so deserve what they get.” It’s a lot harder to look at the root causes such as the proliferation of high-calorie, high-fat foods, offered at exceedingly inexpensive prices.

    I’m all for nationalized health care to help address the problem, but this treats the effect, not the cause. A better route would be to consider paying for health care with a special tax on high-fat, low-nutritional foods.

    – – – – –
    back to the topic at hand…

    I don’t see the case against WS as clear cut as many here. WS does not just kill animals. I have a good friend that works for WS that does research on the spread of zoonotic diseases (e.g. rabies, CWD, bovine TB).

    Still, I cringe at the idea of killing wolves and coyotes through aerial gunning (very expensive, not humane) or the use of M44 (definitely not humane). I’ve written here before on the subject of euthanasia. Some might be interested to know that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) specifically lists cyanide as a method that does NOT constitute euthanasia (see: http://www.avma.org/issues/animal_welfare/euthanasia.pdf).
    Euthanasia requires the “rapid loss of consciousness followed by cardiac or respiratory arrest and the ultimate loss of brain function.” The guidelines also specify that a technique should “minimize distress and anxiety experienced by the animal prior to loss of consciousness.” Neither cyanide nor aerial gunning meet these tests.

    As I said in my previous post, WS needs a change in vision; one which I think is already beginning to take shape:

    “WS’ vision is to improve the coexistence of people and wildlife. The program recognizes that the entire field of wildlife damage management is in a period of change, and those involved with this field must consider a wide range of public interests that can conflict with one another. These interests include wildlife conservation, biological diversity, and the welfare of animals, as well as the use of wildlife for purposes of enjoyment, recreation and livelihood…”

    I’m all for people keeping up the pressure on WS to stop the use of aerial gunning and M44s and to stop the lethal control of wildlife on PUBLIC lands. But that is a relatively small piece of what WS does. Just something to keep in mind.

  20. vicki Avatar

    You are right, so is DBH.
    It is engrained in our society, and our psyche. I work in the health care industry. I don’t know that socialized medicine is the answer, but you are correct because it will not address the issue. Nor would taxes on high fat foods. Because in people’s minds, the things that they are addicted to are filling a void. That kind of void can be all consuming and paying more to fill that void won’t stop them from filling it. But with obesity, there are also numerous genetic and medical preconditions as well as factors beyond some people’s control. That is a physical and psychological summary of what makes people tick (just a brief opinionated one).
    that is where society comes in…
    Society is engrained with behaviors that are deamed accpetable. The society in large would look at said addict and say that they made a choice to be that way. Why do they sum it up in short order, because it is far easier and requires less effort than looking at underlying causes or taking action to correct the real problem.
    If we all just say, Mary is fat because she eats too much, no one has to say
    1. what lead Mary to feel she has to eat so much?
    2. why does she eat things that unhealthy?
    3. does she require treatment for diabetes, thyroid desease or any number of gastroentestinal or endocrine deseases?
    4. how do we pay for that treatment?
    The last factor tends to be a key one in this era. That which deflates the pocket book often gets turned down as it applies to the needs of others.
    The way society, and yes the individual, views what is important, and what is important enough to them personally, is the key to breaking this “code”.
    In order to get the public to take initiative to change the economics and the value of the environment as a whole, is to show them how each dollar wasted could be spent on something they WANT.
    They may not want to kill canids with cyanide. But until you show them a specific monetary effect it has on them, they won’t act to change it. Show them how it would cost them less not to do it. Then show them a way to change it that requires minimal effort on their part. (You will be feeding society’s addictions, but sometimes the best treatment for addicts includes therapies derived from their drug of choice.)

    As far as aerial gunning and poisoning being used as euthanasia, it is a contradiction in terms.
    Euthenasia (one of the most argued practices in the educated world), is based on the premise that the recipient of death causing action was in a prolonged state of SUFFERING, in pain, and already in a process of dying. It is based on a ending that suffering. Are we talking about animals that have cancer? Or distemper? No. They are just an inconvenience to a small population of people. If we did it to humans, we’d call it murder. It is in no way “mercy killing”.

    It is costly, and uneccesary. I would hope someone smarter than myself can show the public why, and what alternatives can be taken.

    As far as the M44s, and gunning, this blog has had me wondering something for a while.
    I know there have been studies that have proven certain chemicals in the brain ar released when murderers and rapists commit their acts, even when they watch it happen on film. So, has anyone ever studied the chemical/physical reaction that people have when they participate in hunting?

    I would guess that some would have a hightened and prolonged biophysical reaction. While others would have a brief surge or endorphines. (Similar to that obtained during certain sexual activities?) I hope my dad isn’t reading this, lol.
    I would wonder if those reactions are an evolutionary response that has occured to promote the hunter gatherer instincts of humans-survival of the species may have been promoted by that.
    But then you are left to question, is the man who has a smaller reaction more or less evolved? Kinda puts us right back where we started.

  21. Catbestland Avatar

    I have noticed that is is often the one who has something to profit from the killing of coyotes (i.e. sheep or cattle ranchers) who are so quick to blame coyotes and other predators for the unnacceptable behavior of killing pets. When in actuality the coyote is doing what nature designed it to do.

    Vicki, I have also wondered what sort of chemical reaction occurs in the brain those who hunt for the sport of it. What makes it pleasurable to watch something die simply because it is a fine specimen of its species? I remember the time of the Viet Nam war when our living rooms were inundated with scenes of the killing fields of that fiasco. I saw enough blood and death. I can’t imagine anyone who would intentionaly want to watch something die unless they were going to eat it.

  22. jimbob Avatar

    There is no moral or legal justification for wildlife services–period! The government even admits that the public owns all wildlife. Why then does the public have to use it’s own tax dollars to subsidize somebody’s business by killing it’s own wildlife, which it doesn’t want killed in the first place? If people believe we truly live in a democracy they are hiding their heads in the sand—Big Business is our dictator! What happens with wildlife is clear evidence of that and Ag interests are BIG BUSINESS regardless of whether it is just Mom and Pop’s ranch.

  23. Linda Hunter Avatar

    DBH I throughly enjoyed your post. Thank you. And JB I think your idea of what we could use WS for is great. . there needs to be an agency that will be willing to go out in the field and deal with human conflicts as they occur with wildlife. If we all want to watch wildlife the rest of our lives and leave some around for the next generations we need to teach people how to get along with them now! It just takes a little new programing for the human. My neighbor has finally gotten relaxed about the skunk that lives under all of our houses. I just came in from tracking a black bear . . he was eating ants in view of a road and as long as the people didn’t see him he was just fine. Only the people would have freaked out at the situation, he was under control, got what he needed and got outta there without being seen. Too, bad he has to live that way. I am beginning to believe that anyone who tells me that we need to manage wildlife is scared of them and hasn’t taken time to get to know the animals they want to kill. There are thousands of people who live with all kinds of wildlife safely and comfortably other than in the American West. I have been reading this blog for a while now, hoping I would figure out why Americans want to kill so much. Here, they want to kill sea lions, cougars and spiders. If it is not just fear, what is it? Alright, maybe for perceived economic gain but those people use other people’s fear to get away with it. So, they can eradicate the big bad coyote, wolf, bear, skunk spider etc. because it is easy to convince people that those animals will hurt you or yours. I was reading a website by an Oregonian yesterday where this hunter wrote in about his experience of seeing a cougar. . his complaint was that the animal was walking confidently, not afraid. So, he wanted to kill it because it wasn’t afraid of humans, therefore, he assumed you would reason along with him that it was DANGEROUS. The cougar did not approach or threaten him but it was in a spot where he hunts every year and he wanted it gone. This is just plain fear. I haven’t found a reason to be afraid of the cougars I track yet. They don’t want to eat humans unless you act like prey. It is easy to get along with them if you know about animal body language. The cougar who walked confidently was doing what the human should have been doing. Showing personal power and lack of interest in confrontation. Easy. I am honored whenever I see one. Why can’t we overcome this irrational fear people have so they can get along with wildlife. Perhaps that is what WS can do for us with their funding. . . there are probably a bunch of reasons politically that can’t happen but I can hope.

  24. Matt Avatar

    It certainly seems WS is “managing” wildlife based on outdated science that calls for primarily lethal controls. Many state and local “nuisance wildlife” management programs take a very holistic approach these days. Most of these holistic approaches are based on university research. While many are not completely non-lethal, they are at least progressive in their approaches. Perhaps it’s time for the Feds to catch up.

  25. JB Avatar


    Actually, I would say WS is makes very efficient use of science and technology. It’s not their science that’s out of date, it’s the value system that drives their actions (in my opinion).


  26. dbaileyhill Avatar

    Linda, thank you for the complement, and you are very welcome.

    Here is one of my favorite quotes-

    Freedom is not the right to do what we want, but what we ought. —Abraham Lincoln

  27. RE Chizmar Avatar
    RE Chizmar

    DBH you r right on as are the others who have responded to your post. Lazy ignorance, irrational fear and/or personal profit are what drive these crazy desires to kill/eliminate anything that poses a threat or annoyance to man — no matter the liklihood of harm. Personal loss or injury via a predator, whether pet or person is tragic, but that does not warrant the elimination w/out exception of all such predators — animals that are usually acting as programmed in a space, we as man, have fenced, paved and thoughtlessly limited. There are risks in life and man is best equipped to recognize and lessen his/her risks. Following the coyote/wolf/cougar/bear fears rationale (and ignoring the rather small risk of injury/death from same) you would want to ban or eliminate cars, guns, alcohol and dogs — all which injure, maim and kill hundreds of thousands of humans (and some pets) each year. But try and tell that to Detroit, the hunter, Budweiser or dog owner (which I am one). Unfortunately, when your youngster reads Little Red Riding Hood or sees a parent joyously kill an animal w/ a gun, trap or poison (and people I’m not lumping in the responsible hunter, who truly hunts per se, and who explains to his son or daughter the resonsibility and privilege of this activity), the programming of ignorance starts at a young age. After Reading, Writing, Math and Science, kids “ought’ to be compelled to learn about preserving and understanding our environment and wild creatures in grade school.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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