Wildlife Services Minimizes Human-Wildlife Conflicts to Protect All
June 20, 2014

A June 8 Washington Post article titled "4 million animals killed by U.S. agency last year" questioned the motivations and practices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Wildlife Services (WS), a program supported by wildlife agencies and agricultural groups, including the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI).

"For years, the massive toll of wild animals exterminated by the federal government as a service to everything from airports to ranches has bounced up and down like a yo-yo. Last year it was up again," the Post article stated. "Though there's a list of animals killed, there's little data showing the cause for each killing, the methods used and the reasons behind mistakes that lead to massive kills of animals that aren't targeted."

The Post claimed that members of Congress have called WS "secret and opaque for failing to provide more information," and the newspaper suggested that there are calls for an investigation into how the program operates.

But those inside USDA and groups that work closely with WS have come to its defense, questioning the timing of the Post article and the motivations behind it.

"This is an obvious campaign by animal rights groups to disparage WS, timed to hit papers just prior to the U.S. House consideration of federal appropriations where amendments attacking the program have been voted down several times," said ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick. "The article deliberately suggests millions of animals when nearly all control is bird damage, such as starlings."

Meanwhile, a letter to the editor written by Kevin Shea, administrator of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, was published in the Post four days after the original article appeared.

"More than 85 percent of the animals removed last year were birds, mostly invasive species that eat crops, contaminate water and livestock feed with disease, cause damage in neighborhoods and increase the threat that airplanes full of travelers could crash," Shea's letter clarified. "Because of a greater number of requests for help, we removed more birds last year than in previous years, and that made up the bulk of the increase cited by the [June 8] article."

Shea went on to point out that U.S. natural resource and professional wildlife management organizations support WS, as does Congress through annual appropriations.

In conclusion, Shea noted that WS recently received the Presidential Migratory Bird Federal Stewardship Award for preserving migratory birds even as it protected air passengers from bird strikes.

"WS professionals provide a service to the public using sound science and humane practices and use non-lethal means whenever possible," he wrote. "They do not deserve derision for responsibly performing their duties."

In support of WS, "ASI has filed the joint letter of support and all the background briefs with the leadership of the U.S. House to prepare for possible action in July," Orwick said, referring to upcoming House votes on appropriations.

The joint letters are available at the Wildlife Services tab from the home page of www.sheepusa.org.