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THE KILLING FIELDS: Why did the U.S. Department of Agriculture kill 1.2 million wild animals in 2019?

The mass killing is primarily a service to the ranching industry, which relies on the agency to clear out animals that prey on livestock and make way for industrial farming.

DHARMA NOOR: The mission of U.S. Wildlife Services, an office in the Department of Agriculture (USDA), is “to provide federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist.” In practice, that means slaughtering animals in droves.

New data the USDA released shows that in 2019, the program killed approximately 1.2 million animals native to North America. That includes hundreds of gray wolves, black bears, and bobcats, thousands of red foxes, tens of thousands of beavers, and hundreds of thousands of birds. Fewer than 3,000 of those animals were killed unintentionally…

Program employees are deployed to deal with dangerous feral hog populations and keep bird populations at airports under control so planes can safely takeoff and land. But the primary reason for the blood on Wildlife Services’ hands is their allegiance to the ranching industry, which relies on the service to clear out wild animals that prey on livestock and make way for industrial farming in states like Texas, Colorado and Idaho…

A 2016 investigation by reporter Christopher Ketcham found that the agency used poisoned bait and spring-loaded cyanide traps to kill animals. It also uses leg-hold traps, which are banned in 88 countries. Trappers with the service also use guns. A lot… In many cases, there are other, non-lethal methods the agency could use to avoid all of this killing… Livestock producers can protect their animals with guard dogs, fences, and by using scare tactics like flashing lights…

Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said that this is largely unnecessary carnage because in most cases, killing predators is not a scientifically sound population control method… All of this killing also creates other ecological problems, throwing balanced ecosystems out of whack. “Many of the animals killed by Wildlife Services are ecologically important, including carnivores like wolves and mountain lions,” Adkins said. “Removing these top predators disrupts the ecosystem and can cause increases in their prey, such as rodents that damage crops and spread disease”…

Killing 1.2 million animals is a lot, but it’s actually relatively low for the program’s annual death toll. Wildlife Services took the lives of 1.5 million, 2.7 million, and 3.2 million in 2018, 2017, and 2016 respectively. This tapering may be due in part to local and state government opposition… Scientists have long warned that raising animals is far more resource-intensive than vegetable and grain production, and therefore should be ramped down dramatically. The Wildlife Service’s new data provides even more reasons that we need to dramatically rethink how we produce food. SOURCE…

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