Wildlife Services

Wildlife Services Protects Agriculture and Natural Resources

Recently, several news outlets have highlighted a university study that calls into question the validity of USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services’ predation damage management and research, particularly the program’s use of lethal methods. On September 18, The New York Times posted an article highlighting the study and criticizing the program’s work to protect agriculture and natural resources from wildlife damage.

Wildlife Services would like to set the record straight and provide our stakeholders with additional information that was left out of The New York Times article by the author, as well as our response to The New York Times editor before it was shortened by the paper. We take these criticisms seriously and believe the public has the right to know the complete story. As we mention in the letter, Wildlife Services welcomes open, complete and contextually accurate discussion of best management practices in its efforts to provide responsible wildlife damage management.

APHIS Admnistrator Kevin Shea Letter as Published in The New York Times

APHIS Administrator Kevin Shea’s Letter to the Editor as Submitted to The New York Times

Dear Mr. Feyer,

We appreciate The New York Times Editorial Board allowing us to comment on the recent opinion piece by Mr. Richard Conniff titled “America’s Wildlife Body Count.” APHIS Wildlife Services stands by our employees and their research, management, and communication activities to protect American agriculture, property, human health and safety, and natural resources.

In his article, Mr. Conniff did not include information provided by Wildlife Services that puts management action in perspective. In 2015, Wildlife Services removed 3.2 million wild animals, of which 1.5 million were invasive and injurious species, such as feral swine and European starlings. Mr. Conniff also failed to mention that Wildlife Services’ non-lethal actions comprised the majority of Wildlife Services damage management efforts with more than 21 million animals being dispersed in 2015.

The opinion piece asks for transparency for taxpayers, yet cites the very data from the Wildlife Services’ public website. Wildlife Services has annually published program data reports online for the past two decades. These publically available reports include the number of animals dispersed and removed in each state, the methods used and the resources being protected. An example of that data shows that Sandhill Cranes were reported and observed in hundreds of instances harming crops (including corn, wheat, alfalfa and chili peppers) and threatening human safety in airport situations. In response, Wildlife Services dispersed 149,000 cranes and lethally removed 17. Most importantly in 2015, USDA’s Office of Inspector General completed an audit of the Wildlife Services program and found it to be in compliance with all applicable Federal and State laws, and did not identify any problems with our wildlife damage management activities. Wildlife Services works closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and State wildlife agencies and is strongly supported by the professional wildlife management community.

Wildlife management utilizes a variety of methods. The Wildlife Society (TWS), whose 10,000 members include scientists, managers, educators and others, in their TWS’s Standing Position Statement on Wildlife Damage Management states, “Prevention or control of wildlife damage, which often includes removal of the animals responsible for the damage, is an essential and responsible part of wildlife management.” Mr. Conniff’s absolute support of Dr. Adrian Treves’ article regarding predator research does not consider the hundreds of practicing wildlife experts, researchers, or managers. Treves et al.’s selective assessment of existing North American and European predation studies, including those of our own scientists, did not accurately interpret or represent the studies’ designs and results. Moreover, Treves et al. selectively disregarded studies from Australia where numerous controlled field experiments have been conducted regarding the effects and impacts of lethal predator management. An objective critique of the science underlying wildlife management is welcomed, however, Mr. Conniff’s opinion piece and the Treves et al. article have not fulfilled that goal. While disappointed in these efforts, Wildlife Services welcomes open, complete, and contextually accurate discussion of best management practices in its efforts to provide responsible wildlife damage management.

Kevin Shea, Administrator
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

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