Congress: Kill Wildlife Services’ Wildlife-Killing Budget

This is a guest editorial by Wendy Keefover, Director of the Carnivore Protection Program at WildEarth Guardians-

The New York Times editors largely got it right when they recently editorialized critically about the cruel work of a little known program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that annually spends over $100 million to kill some four million animals each year.  But we believe the Times should have gone further with their recommendation:  abolish Wildlife Services altogether because it represents a huge waste of taxpayer funds, it harms wildlife communities and ecosystems, and uses indiscriminate, brutal methods to kill millions of wildlife and domestic animals each year.

Not surprisingly Kevin Shea, one of the USDA’s top administrators for the government’s war on wildlife reacted defensively and claimed the Times editors “misunderstood” the federal government’s animal-killing “program.” He argues that unless one lives in “Rural [sic] America or work[s] in agriculture” one just cannot comprehend the need for the feds to kill “wolves, coyotes, bears that prey on livestock, as well as birds that can devour a field of sunflowers or a pen of farm-raised catfish in a morning.”

But Shea’s notion of rural exceptionalism is fundamentally about the bottom line of agribusiness and is a complete dismissal of the growing support for non-lethal coexistence. His arguments are out-of-step with Americans’ conservation values. In fact some rural producers readily use non-lethal methods to deter wildlife and prevent losses to their agricultural products. A few ranchers ride with their herds that graze on open range, or use barns or pens to protect lambing or calving mothers. Some farmers use scarecrows and electronic devices to scare off flocks of birds that might eat sunflower seeds or rice.

Shea conveniently omitted facts about the enormous problems associated with this federal animal-killing program. Each year, Wildlife Services kills millions of animals, including animals that are federally listed as “endangered” or “threatened” with extinction under the Endangered Species Act. It also kills hundreds of common species each year from meadowlarks, to beavers, to American kestrels. Wildlife Services slays hundreds of domestic pets, and occasionally and ironically the very cattle, sheep, or deer they are working to protect.

While Shea claims that: “we target just those animals causing the damage.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Wildlife Services uses a veritable arsenal that includes a variety of indiscriminate deadly poisons; cable neck snares; dynamite, steel-jawed, and leg-hold traps. None of these things target the individual animals that have caused agricultural damage. And neither can the federal snipers who shoot wolves, bears, coyotes, and ravens from helicopters and airplanes. They just shoot the animals they see.

Shea also forgot to mention the brutality that characterizes some Wildlife Services employees. Recently, one federal trapper was criticized for apparently siccing his dogs on trapped coyotes. The trapper then apparently took photos and posted them to his Facebook page.

In another recent incident, a government trapper, who was working for his wife with his supervisor’s approval, set up leg-hold traps in his own yard. He captured his neighbor’s dog who was left in traps for hours. The dog sustained permanent damage to her body. The trapper has been charged in Arizona for felony animal abuse and recently left his employment.

Wildlife Services wastes enormous resources in its bid to kill America’s most majestic native carnivores such as wolves, coyotes, bears, and cougars. What makes no sense is that only a miniscule number of livestock actually die from predation – less than a quarter of one percent of the cattle inventory according to USDA figures. Most cattle and sheep succumb to illness, disease, and birthing problems, according to the USDA’s own data, killing wolves and other native species creates enormous ecosystem problems, and disrupts the social structures in these animal communities.

Finally, Mr. Shea failed to tell his readers that tax dollars largely pay for all this killing. Wildlife Services receives funds from taxpayers at every level of government – from municipalities, to states, and from the federal treasury as well.

Worse, Wildlife Services operates under a veil of secrecy, often failing to account for its actions. Wildlife Services is notorious for its failures to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests. It won’t tell the public how much it spends on what it does, although a peek at some of its record keeping from its databases indicates a culture of precise record keeping. Wildlife Services has even evaded requests from Congress for its budget records.

Wildlife Services has been around in various guises since the late 19th Century with its primary mission to exterminate our nation’s wildlife so as to benefit those in agribusiness. Times have changed. Sadly Wildlife Service has not.  It’s time for Wildlife Services to go. It’s out of step with Americans’ values toward wildlife and wildlands conservation.

With ingenuity and persistence, producers can choose to co-exist with wildlife rather than killing – because the amount of killing is expensive, harmful, misguided, and wholly unnecessary. In an era of economic uncertainty, it’s time to kill Wildlife Services’ budget so as to spare our nation’s wildlife and pets.







  1. CodyCoyote Avatar

    I largely agree with the notion that Wildlife Services doing ” wet work ” to control purported nuisance animals by eradicating them is dead wrong ( pun intended).

    But there is a small baby being thrown out with that huge pool of bathwater. Wildlife Services actually does some pretty good research when compelled to.

    It isn’t fair to characterize them as just wolf-coyote-coon-skunk and fox killers. Maybe we should just excise that huge malignant tumor called ” Predator Control “.

    1. jimt Avatar

      “””Wildlife Services actually does some pretty good research when compelled to.””””

      Sort of the point, isn’t it? “compelled”? By whom? Lawsuits brought by enviros? It is a tool of agribusiness, and it kills for its existence. That is the dominant ethos of WS. And she is needs to go and those functions examined and re-purposed to a more ecologically balanced approach.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Yes, I like the idea of ‘re-purposing’. If we now having hunting as a method of predator control along with rancher depredation control (that they have always had), we don’t need Wildlife Services to do it anymore.

  2. thomas michael murphy Avatar
    thomas michael murphy

    politicians and the wildlife services are destroying our wildlife and birds and our forests. stop them while we still have some wildlife left.

  3. Joan Wilder Avatar
    Joan Wilder

    Wildlife Services is no service to wildlife..they kill wildlife…before the creation of this agency mother nature created wildlife with no management from humans. It is humans who need to be managed as they are the danger to wildlife..not the other way around. This agency serves no real purpose or true concern with the welfare of wild animals and needs to be abolished…

  4. Betty Tosti Avatar
    Betty Tosti

    You are using my money to do this? I choose to not have this done, not 1 cent of my money is to go toward this. Our government is broken and so wasteful. Have we not already destroyed and exterminated enough? At this rate we will be the next to reap the rewards from destroying our own habitat and maybe we deserve it.

  5. Ric Downing Avatar
    Ric Downing

    OK, so you want a comment from someone in the heart of things and not from “the city”? I am a hunter, I kill only to feed my family, and kill nothing else ( except spiders!) I live in north central I Idaho, in the heart of the farming/ ranching country backed up against the Bitteroot mountains. I have deer, elk, bears, lions, coyotes, and wolves in my back yard, litterally. The employees of the wildlife services are ego driven sick killers with no respect what so ever for anything living. Period! They get their kicks forom killing thigs for money, and do it on their time off for fun. We have no need what so ever for their services in this day and gae, none! And their methods kill in discrimately, dogs, cats,non targeted wildlife. The notion that us “outback westerners” support these murderers, is dead wrong.

    1. Wolfy Avatar

      Thanks, Ric; I come from the same background and totally agree with you. I’ve worked around these guys for a long time and have seen the swathe of destruction they leave. And yes, most of them get a sick joy out of their work. We need to shut them down, even though they do a little good.

  6. Taz Alago Avatar
    Taz Alago

    Nice job Wendy, you cover all the points very well. I would like to add another point though – that WS gets its livestock loss figures almost entirely from the producers themselves, not from WS investigators. The numbers are thus taken on faith without any vetting. Producers, most still wedded to the 19th century “kill inconveniences” philosophy, are prone to blame predators for both missing livestock and livestock dead of no known cause.

  7. Jon Way Avatar

    Let’s see if the hypocritical, supposedly fiscally conservative (mostly) Republicans actually try to reduce this government waste. Probably not…

  8. Rancher Bob Avatar
    Rancher Bob

    Thus the second leg of the lies comes out, first they claim they have no problem with the removal of problem/livestock killing wolves, in a effort to stop hunting and trapping.
    Then they try to reduce the budget of the people who remove problem wolves, second leg of the lie.
    Personally I have no problem with the end of WS, I already pay a per head tax that makes up more than half of the WS budget. I’ve already been approached by two people who want some contract wolf hunting jobs. Simple save the money I’d save with the end of WS until I have a problem that needs solved. Everyone’s happy because most of you would save about 25 cents a year and believe you would be saving wildlife.

    1. Wolfy Avatar

      Which of those legs are in the leg-hold trap?

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      This agency needs a revamping. ASAP.

  9. Louise Kane Avatar

    sorry about misplaced post
    and BTW I love Wendy’s post
    get rid of that inhumane, wildlife killing machine

  10. Robert Goldman Avatar
    Robert Goldman

    Thank you, Ric from Idaho for making it clear that not everyone from Idaho is an animal abusing pervert. Why are there not enough good people in Idaho to vote in decent, respectful leaders who actually love the land and the love all the wildlife that the state is blessed to have. Why do the abusers and killers rule in Idaho? And thanks Wendy for your good job.

  11. BobMc Avatar

    The bipartisan Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) has grown into one of the largest and most effective caucuses in the US Congress with nearly 300 members of the House and Senate representing almost all 50 states.

    List of manly men and women who whore for killing industries

    With 300 members of Congress wanting to get ’em a bar, they see nothing wrong with Wildlife Services, and think it’s patriotic of WS to snub the effete snobs that don’t tote and that think the brave trappers of the USDA should have to answer to non-hunters.

  12. julie long gallegos Avatar
    julie long gallegos

    I’m a citizen and taxpayer and think hunting should not be done on my dime. I want Jamie Olson (USDA Employee who posted Facebook pics of the trapped coyote being torn to pieces by his dogs)fired. I want wolves to remain on the ESL forever until they are back in all of their former habitat that is still suitable for them and that includes California and Utah. It’s time to vote the cruel asshats out of Congress and give our wildlife the consideration it deserves.

  13. bonnie spiker Avatar
    bonnie spiker

    I totally agree with disposing completely of the agency or if not that, a need to change the complete agency itself. But, teaching an old dog new tricks is hard. Steel traps, dynamite, neck snares?? WTHell? are these people that incapable of doing their jobs that they need to resort to lame, cruel tactics such as these, how barbaric. Humans are not smarter than this? It is embarassing to know that tax payers spend “100 million” dollars a year paying them to do just this! I am disgusted!

  14. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue

    To approach Devil’s Advocacy, anyone who has used an airport in this country should probably give some thanks to WS. In more urban areas, where folks can’t resist feeding deer, or there simply are no predators, drivers should probably give thanks for WS. Things like ‘Rails to Trails’ have served as a conduit for all sorts of wildlife to move in closer to metropolitan areas.

    That said, there is something acutely wrong with them
    Serving as a private hit squad, costing more (with fixed wing and helicopter expenses figured in), than the damage caused by wolves and coyotes. And has been said over and over on this site and others, coyotes have increased in number despite/because of the pressure put upon them.

    And still further, there is NO excuse for abuse.

  15. KAM Avatar

    Not entirely true about airports. More are following others’ footsteps on utilizing nature Vs Wildlife Services etc. Coyotes, raccoons, fox, skunks… all natural predators of birds, eggs and if NOT also poisoned and killed while trying to kill their local birds, do as good if not better job than the lethal not-so-effective ways our dollars are paying for!

    There is always buffer habitat around airports; There are always rehabilitators looking for release land. There are vaccines to keep the released animals healthy, they can even be spayed/neutured … this is one no-brainer, non-lethal win-win for all, as is new avian birth-control products. WE need to demand it!

    Great article – keep the message going!! (like right into OUR legislators ears on a regular basis. All this BS needs is a big spotlight exposing it more each day)

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue


      Tell that to a pilot, with full load of people on board, when a deer walks in front of the plain just prior to rotation.

      I’m not standing up for all WS does, but airports, you bet your as I do.

  16. ma'iingan Avatar

    “Some farmers use scarecrows and electronic devices to scare off flocks of birds that might eat sunflower seeds or rice.”

    That’s great. How about half a million starlings at a grain storage facility?

    1. Mike Avatar

      Nice logical fallacy. Let’s dismiss all forms of scientific-based, no-kill management because some examples are more difficult than others.

  17. Marion Ambler Avatar
    Marion Ambler

    Kevin Shea conveniently ignores all the urban wildlife killed by the USDA WS……their killing of birds in the name of ‘air safety’ is total unscientific BS and their goose roundups justified with the vague excuse the birds contaminate water are more of the same. They are total LIARS.

    “Taxpayers subsidizing wild life extermination program, probe
    Shows” By Mary Lou Simms, McClatchy-Tribune News Service – This report was made possible by a grant from The Fund for Investigative Journalism in Washington, D.C.

    “Geese roundups around airports are for profit, not safety”

    ……..Mary Lou Simms of Helena is a freelance investigative reporter most recently working under a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism in Washington, D.C. She is currently researching bird-strike prevention programs at a dozen airports throughout the U.S

  18. Wildlife Biologist Avatar
    Wildlife Biologist

    This is a classic example of the blind leading the blind. Dr. Maughan needs to stick to politics. He is obviously better at gaining political favor than educating the public about wildlife. He has absolutely no idea what the USDA Wildlife Services does. Yes, they occasionally kill wildlife. But killing is usually a last resort. Those of you that have ever flown, you can thank a USDA biologist that a bird didn’t bring your plane down, or that the plane didn’t hit a deer on the runway. These are the biologists that help educate the public about how to live with wildlife – to help prevent conflict in the first place. But PEOPLE refuse to change their lifestyle. Those that experience damage or other conflict would rather have the animal killed or relocated to a new place where it usually causes the same conflict. Most people don’t care as long as it’s not in their backyard. An animal relocated rarely lives in paradise. Many of them die anyway, but hey, out of sight, out of mind, right!?
    Try learning something about wildlife!!!

    1. W. biologist Avatar

      Why not also learn that There are many private companies that make airport wildlife management their focus. WS directly competes against them every day. They charge more for their “services” when no private sector services are available yet grossly undercut the private sector when competing. They can carry out this unfair competition due to them being subsidized with YOUR tax dollars! Furthermore, these private companies utilize an entire tool chest of methods such as habitat management on airfields in an effort to keep animals off the airfields so they and the flying public are safe. WS is a rogue, out of control agency that wastes our tax dollars. Shut them down!


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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Ralph Maughan