Part 1 of a 3 part series in the Sacremento Bee: The killing agency: Wildlife Services’ brutal methods leave a trail of animal death

Tom Knudson of the Sacremento Bee has been working on this very important and eye opening series about USDA Wildlife Services for several months. I was contacted by him in December last year and we talked about several issues related to WS and their killing.

This first installment of three introduces people to the agency and how it has hidden its activities from the public for a long time. He reports on many instances where trappers have declined to submit the required reporting of non-target killing of endangered wildlife or family pets. Where they have set out cyanide laced M-44’s which have killed thousands of animals and even sickened members of the public or even their own employees.

Many aspects of this agencies’ mission are just another of the many subsidies provided to the livestock industry at taxpayers’ expense. USDA Wildlife Services is in the business of killing and it does so without accountability and with great harm to wildlife but with benefits that are dubious.

They have been preemptivly killing coyotes for decades yet coyotes still are increasing their range and population. These coyote and other predator killing programs have been a deadly taxpayer subsidized boondoggle and it is time to bring them to an end.

There are three parts to this series which will run in the Sacremento Bee. The second part of the series will run tomorrow and the third will run on Sunday May 6th.

The killing agency: Wildlife Services’ brutal methods leave a trail of animal death
Tom Knudson – The Sacramento Bee.


  1. Nancy Avatar

    Thanks for posting this Ken, although I have to say, I won’t look forward to 2 & 3 of the series, because like some here? I’ve already witnessed, firsthand, WS and their “condoned” approach to managing much of wildlife, for the sake of a few.

  2. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    The photo of the three trapped coyotes shows two dogs attacking one of the trapped coyotes. The author seems to have missed what is going on. Were these dogs owned by the Wildlife Services trapper?

    1. JEFF E Avatar
      JEFF E

      Good catch Larry.
      If something ever needed to go viral on the Internet that picture would be it.

    2. SAP Avatar

      Looks like three dogs, probably Airedale crosses. Google “decoy dogs.”

  3. Wolfy Avatar

    Thanks to Don and the Bee for bringing this horrible institution to light. I too have first-hand experience with WS “by-catch” misfires. Luckily, I was with my dogs when they got caught in some WS coyote traps and was able to free them without permanent damage. The traps were set next to a hiking trail in a National Monument with NO signs alerting us that trapping was going on in the area. I’ve also seen numerous other pet owners that were so lucky when they encountered WS traps and poison sets.
    It’s time to put an end to this barbaric agency. It may have served a good purpose at one time, but its way out of control. Talk about wasteful spending; Cutting their funding was a good, serious first step. Now we need to legislate and embarrass them out of existence.

  4. Wolfy Avatar

    Oops, I meant Tom.

  5. WM Avatar

    WS activities may deserve some refocusing, and elimination of some of its methods with high collateral damage, but the need for much of what it does will never go away.

    1. louise kane Avatar

      To WM who said
      “WS activities may deserve some refocusing, and elimination of some of its methods with high collateral damage, but the need for much of what it does will never go away.”

      why will the need for it never go away? if people look for solutions to coexist with wildlife or to avoid conflicts, then we won’t need to fund this killing agency. What will the agency do about the geese problem, kill all of them within 5 miles, within 10, within 50? And how far up in the atmosphere should the elimination extend to? According to the article you sent, Mr Dolbeer said “trends in bird strikes over 20 years, (showed) that an increasing proportion of bird strikes are happening at altitudes greater than 500 feet, which means they’re occurring away from airports. Flight 1549, for example, was hit by birds at 2,800 feet, 4.5 miles from LaGuardia.”

      The study then reccomended that “to prevent bird strikes at all altitudes, …measures such as refining bird-detecting radar systems and researching avian perception in order to develop aircraft lights that would repel birds.”
      The animal advocate rightly pointed out
      “The killing just doesn’t work,” she said. “We have to focus on learning to coexist with these birds.”
      we do need to focus to learn to live with wildlife. I hope this agency gets axed. I don’t want to pay for its grisly, wasteful, cruel mission that is another form of subsidy for the livestock industry.

  6. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    The domestic sheep industry just had its best year (2011)in terms of net income. This seems like a good time for the woolgrowers to stop getting free predator control and subsidies for lamb meat and wool.
    They also get subsidized by special rules that allow them to hire foreign help at slave labor prices. ($750/month for a Peruvian herder to work 24 hours/day and 30 days/month.)
    The woolgrowers are real welfare queens.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      The wolverine killed by WS and mentioned in the article was killed on a sheep allotment, in efforts to protect sheep, just north of McCall. I believe it was one of the allotments permitted to Soulen Livestock.

      1. louise kane Avatar

        lets see aren’t there something like 300 wolverines in the RM and how many sheep? Killing endangered species makes a lot of sense here, oh that’s right they aren’t quite listed yet. Sheep, cattle vs wild animals who wins?

  7. red Avatar

    Are Wildlife Services free services and grazing subsidies included in figures showing states (mostly “red”) receiving the most federal dollars per capita?

  8. eloise lanum Avatar
    eloise lanum

    Wildlife services was lately on the net – showing him posing with a wolf that had been caught in a leghold. It showed the wolf had been circling & bleeding for hours. The trapper was posed in front – smiling for the camera. It was in Utah.

  9. Mike Avatar

    It amazes me that people are allowed to set M-44’s with cyanide. Killed your pet? Ooops! Maimed and injured you? Ooops! Wiped out a coyote, badger, and fox? Oops!

    Wildlife Services needs to end, period. If there ever was a section of government in need of complete removal, this is it.

  10. Steve Avatar

    The “Wildlife Services” referred to by Ken Cole/Tom Knudsen is USDA APHIS, not to be confused with US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) which is in the Department of the Interior. The FWS generally attempts to preserve a certain species, while APHIS is here to protect people from animal and plant pests, diseases, etc. Scientists are employed by APHIS, while environmentalists are more attracted to FWS. Sometimes folks don’t like predator control and maybe the agency should let others know how much they actually help. On the other hand, it would be great if people knew how much the FWS hinders habitat management that would otherwise help endangered and common species.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      I, and our readers, are well aware of the differences between USDA Wildlife Services and USFWS. We have been writing about this agency for years and are well aware or their actions.

      In general, predator control does little, if any, good and sucks up taxpayer funds to benefit a small, privileged class of ranchers. Their predator control activities need to be defunded and WS needs to work on other projects which may actually help functioning ecosystems.

    2. JB Avatar

      “Scientists are employed by APHIS, while environmentalists are more attracted to FWS.”

      Actually, scientists are employed by both agencies. Scientists at the National Wildlife Research Center, which is part of USDA-Aphis, are generally quite well respected for their research. However, the majority of Wildlife Services personnel are field staff who get paid to trap and “remove” so-called nuisance wildlife (aka or critter gitters). Not a lot of science there.

      In contrast, FWS’s mandate is far more regulatory in nature. Consequently, many of their folks work in offices and review paperwork (e.g., section 7 consultations, candidate conservation agreements, etc.); but most usually have some background in biology or ecology, though some have a background in law/policy.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        “However, the majority of Wildlife Services personnel are field staff who get paid to trap and “remove” so-called nuisance wildlife”

        Field staff, which also includes contract labor, anyone with a plane is probably a bonus in rural areas.

        Most of us recall the “kiiler bee” article posted here not long ago.

        I know of one “flyboy” in my area that “sprays” weeds and predators.

        Imagine the pay is about the same (course the gunner would add to the cost)

    3. mikarooni Avatar

      Steve, you win the prize! I’ve never read so much horse manure in a single posting than you’ve crammed into yours. I bet the ladies just love your eyes; I bet they’re a nice brown highlighted with grass green streaks.

      1. Salle Avatar

        Apparently steve is new to the reality of what goes on out here in the west when it comes to WS and their operations.


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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Ken Cole