Every year, Wildlife Services, a little known federal agency within the Department of Agriculture, poisons & tortures wolves, bears, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and other innocent animals including OUR PETS! Wildlife Services prefers two toxins to kill predators: Compound 1080, a rat poison developed by the Nazis during World War II, and sodium cyanide distributed through M44 projectile devices – spring-loaded, baited mechanisms that release poison into the mouth of any animal who disturbs it. 1080 is a poison so lethal a single teaspoon can kill 100 people. Animals exposed to these poisons suffer painful deaths as they experience convulsions, central nervous system failure, cardiac arrest, and suffocation. Because both poisons are indiscriminate, any animal, including dogs and other domestic animals, are sometimes killed by the poisons.
The core purpose of Wildlife Services’ predator control activities is to prevent commercial livestock losses from predation by wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, and other wild carnivores. Working directly with commercial operators and state and local governments, Wildlife Services uses a combination of lethal control methods, like trapping, aerial gunning, poisoning, and denning (killing young in their dens), and some non-lethal control methods.
But driven by narrow agricultural interests, these predator control activities often ignore the greater public need for a healthy environment, fiscal responsibility, and safe public lands, raising some serious questions about how the program is being administered.
Should the focus be on killing predators? The USDA's own statistics show that most livestock losses come from weather, disease, illness, and birthing problems, not predation. Wildlife Services continues to "preventatively" kill more than 100,000 native carnivores each year, even when the effectiveness of such killing is unproven or, worse, counterproductive.
What about unintended consequences? Lethal control methods the program employs have led to dozens of injuries and deaths from aircraft crashes, poisoned pets (and even some people), and the degradation of ecosystems that rely on healthy predator populations to function. Some efforts have even increased the reproduction rates of the same animals they’re attempting to control.
Today, the program spends over $100 million annually to kill more than one million animals.
I write to urge you to stop poisoning our wildlife. Your program is ineffective, indiscriminate, inhumane, and has cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars using methods that are also hazardous to humans and pets. Carnivores play an integral role maintaining healthy ecosystems by regulating deer and elk, as well as smaller mammal, populations. Most of these species need large areas of land to meet all of their food and habitat requirements. For this reason, carnivores, especially wide-ranging species such as grizzly bears, are considered “umbrella” species. By protecting large wild areas for predators to live and roam, we are, in effect, saving a place for many more animal and plant species. Biologists have found that many large native carnivores are “keystone species,” and play a pivotal role in maintaining ecological integrity and preserving species diversity. The disappearance of a keystone species triggers the loss of other local species, and the intricate connections among the remaining residents begin to unravel. Species losses cascade and multiply throughout the ecosystem in a “domino effect.” In the words of conservation biologist John Terborgh, “Our current knowledge about the natural processes that maintain biodiversity suggests a crucial and irreplaceable role of top predators. The absence of top predators appears to lead inexorably to ecosystem simplification accompanied by a rush of extinctions.” Simply put, by protecting top and mid-level carnivores, we protect the health of natural biological systems upon which many other species depend. These practices should be banned. Animals other than the target species frequently are harmed and/or killed by these methods. It goes without saying that any method that involves prolonged suffering and slow death is cruel, inhumane, and simply should not be permitted. The poisons your program has chosen to use can stay in an animal’s body for six months or longer and work their way up the food chain. Not only is this ethically indefensible, it’s ecologically insane.
Secretary, we simply ask that you honor your word.