Only 4% of the toll of 1.76 million animals were “livestock predators,” but 44% were “invasive” starlings
RIVERDALE, Maryland––Released on March 22, 2022, the USDA Wildlife Services program activity report for 2021 tells a different story from the sunny spin put on it by the accompanying media release from USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service publicists.
Say the publicists, “Wildlife Services’ activities seek to reduce or eliminate more than an estimated $232 million in livestock loss due to predation.”
Yet, of the 1.76 million animals killed by the agency in 2021, only 4%––63,965 coyotes and about 3,000 other animals––could reasonably be considered livestock predators.
Why kill coyotes for ranchers who refuse to use non-lethal predator control?
The 2020 National Agricultural Statistics Service “Sheep & Goat Death Loss Report” noted that coyote predation accounted for 32.6% of sheep losses and 40.1% of lamb losses,” according to ranchers’ own reports.
“Approximately $51.4 million was spent by 77.1% of operators who used nonlethal predator damage management methods,” Wildlife Services said, bringing into question why Wildlife Services continues to persecute coyotes on behalf of the 22.9% of sheep and goat ranchers who do not use nonlethal predator damage prevention.
“Dispersed” means “shotgun alarmed birds into flight”
Wildlife Services killing also seeks “to reduce or eliminate $150 million in bird damage to crops,” the publicists say.
This suggests that the approximately 1.4 million birds killed by Wildlife Services did, on average, a little more than $10 worth of crop damage apiece, whereas Wildlife Services spent about $189 million to kill and disperse animals, more than 70% of them birds, or probably as much to prevent damage as the actual damage amounted to.
Wildlife Services claimed to have “dispersed 93% of the animals encountered,” but that phrase describes what happens when Wildlife Services gunners fire a shotgun: the birds not hit, 90% of those within earshot, take off.
In effect, Wildlife Services acknowledged missing 13 million of the birds who might have been in the vicinity of those who were aimed at.
Preventing bird-strikes by aircraft
Acknowledged Wildlife Services, “Comprehensive estimates of all types of wildlife damage are difficult to gauge, but each year wildlife strikes cause approximately $200 million in loss to American civil aviation, and also pose a potential loss of life.”
Crediting Wildlife Services with preventing about as much bird strike damage to aircraft as continues to occur might mean that the agency saves about a dollar’s worth of harm to aircraft, crops, and livestock for every dollar it spends.
That also suggests, though, that preventing bird strikes at airports is by far and away the most cost-effective work Wildlife Services does.
Wildlife Services in fiscal year 2021 used $86.8 million in Congressionally appropriated tax funds and $102.1 million in “cooperator-provided funding,” meaning fees paid to the agency as the tax-subsidized official exterminating company for governments at all levels.
Other than starlings, 2/3 of birds killed were native
“Invasive species accounted for 77% and native species 23% of the wildlife lethally removed,” or 1,352,838 “invasive” animals compared to 404,565 other animals, Wildlife Services said.
“Of the wildlife lethally removed,” Wildlife Services continued, “79% were either an invasive species or a species listed on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Depredation Order for blackbirds, cowbirds, crows, grackles, and magpies.”
A closer look at that, though, shows that 44% of the animals killed by Wildlife Services were European starlings: 1,028,650 of them, a steep increase since fiscal year 2020, the agency acknowledged, when birds killed under the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Depredation Order “accounted for 56% of total lethal removal, or 844,732 birds.”
Subtracting European starlings from the 2021 totals shows that two-thirds of the other birds killed were neither “invasive,” which to Wildlife Services means any species considered non-native, nor “listed on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Depredation Order.”
After starlings, the bird species killed in greatest numbers were 66,574 pigeons and 32,295 munias, both classed invasive, but neither of them a significant threat to human health, safety, crops, or endangered wildlife.
Also among the 10 birds on the Wildlife Services hit list who were killed most often were 26,696 nonmigratory Canada geese, 19,170 mourning doves, 18,470 sparrows of five species, 17,633 gulls of 13 species, 16,792 black vultures, 15,096 redwing blackbirds, and 10,166 ravens.
All but the sparrows are native to the mainland U.S., none are directly harmful to humans, and nonmigratory Canada geese and mourning doves are commonly shot for sport by hunters.
This hints at a considerable element of sport hunting in Wildlife Services’ animal damage control efforts.
Nearly half of the mammals killed by Wildlife Services in 2021 were feral pigs, a total of 143,905, “an almost 27% increase over fiscal year 2020,” Wildlife Services said, in the number of pigs killed “as part of the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program,” the official synonym for federally subsidized “hawg huntin’.”
Pigs and coyotes together made up about two-thirds of the mammal toll. Next most often targeted were 24,683 beaver, 11,377 prairie dogs, 9,920 ground squirrels of several different species, 9,274 nutria classed as “invasive,” 9,286 whitetail deer, and 9,163 raccoons suspected of being rabid.
Fur trapping as “damage control”
All of these mammals are also commonly shot or trapped for sport and to sell their pelts.
The mammals next more often killed included 4,272 skunks of several species, also mostly suspected of being rabid, and 3,905 “invasive” black rats.
Collateral damage from trapping beaver and nutria included 589 of the 714 river otters whom Wildlife Services acknowledged killing, and 194 of the 875 muskrats.
River otters and muskrats are, like coyote, beaver, raccoon, and nutria, frequent targets of fur trappers.
Dogs & cats
Wildlife Services has projected since 2004 that dogs kill more livestock animals than any species other than coyotes, upward of 22,000 per year according to Wildlife Services’ own estimate, and an average of about 14,000 per year according to ANIMALS 24-7 estimates produced annually since 2010.
Wildlife Services, however, killed only 145 dogs in 2021, along with 551 feral cats.
“Invasive” species were clearly the majority of reptiles killed by Wildlife Services, including 15,203 brown tree snakes in Guam, 3,795 iguanas killed in Florida, and 2,354 miscellaneous other exotic reptiles.
ANIMALS 24-7 has, however, discovered historical cause to question whether iguanas were ever actually absent from Florida.
Northern pike minnows
The species killed by Wildlife Services in greatest numbers, other than starlings, were 75,351 “native Northern pike minnow that APHIS removed to protect federally threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest,” the agency media release said.
Pike minnow, salmon, and steelhead coexisted in abundance for millennia, however, before dam-building cutting off salmon and steelhead access to spawning streams combined with overfishing to cause salmon and steelhead runs to collapse, beginning early in the 20th century.
Wildlife agencies have been looking for anything other than dams and fishing to blame ever since.
Keeping the killers in sight
Wildlife Services pointed out that agents kill relatively few animals compared to sport hunters: 64,131 coyotes in 2021, for instance, whereas trappers and hunters annually kill about half a million coyotes.
“Out of an estimated 300,000 black bears nationwide, APHIS euthanized 433 and relocated 718 black bears,” Wildlife Services said, adding that “APHIS removed less than ½ of 1% of the national estimated red-winged blackbird and brown-headed cowbird breeding populations of 150 million and 120 million, respectively.”
But Wildlife Services stopped short of suggesting bluntly, in so many words, that perhaps the best argument for its existence is that there is some accountability for the killing it does, whereas if it did not exist, for-profit nuisance wildlife trappers and hunters could massacre animals with no accountability whatever.
This is already the case for those who kill only non-regulated species such as feral cats and most small rodents.