Ag Appropriations Bill on House Floor

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Wildlife Services Amendment Offered by Representatives Defazio and Bass

(05/26/1999) - Defenders of Wildlife hailed an amendment to the FY 2000 Agriculture appropriations bill expected on the House floor today as a great step in ensuring the safety and survival of thousands of mammalian species, including many endangered and threatened species. The amendment, offered by Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Charles Bass (R-NH), aims to reform the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program by cutting back on funding to its deadly animal control protection program.

"We are very pleased that both representatives were able to see through the pretty name ‘Wildlife Services’ to what this program really is; a federal program that indiscriminately kills tens of thousands of animals each year and charges taxpayers millions of dollars to do it," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "It’s great that this is a bipartisan effort to end this slaughter."

According to Wildlife Services figures, nearly 100,000 predators in 17 western states were killed in 1997 as part of the livestock- protection program, mainly on behalf of western sheep ranchers. Wildlife Services provides this killing service almost free of charge to the ranchers, many of whom can afford to pay for their own predator control. Between 1991 and 1996, Wildlife Services agents visited TV celebrity Sam Donaldson’s New Mexico ranch more than 400 times and killed more than 70 coyotes as well as many other animals. Rep. Joe Skeen (R-NM), a New Mexico rancher and staunch Wildlife Services defender, also has received substantial assistance from the program. Last year, after lobbying from the American Farm Bureau.

Federation and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, Rep. Skeen called for a re-vote on a similar DeFazio/Bass amendment that had passed the day before by a margin of 229-193. Claiming that the amendment would mean the ruin of the sheep industry and would jeopardize public health and safety, Skeen got the amendment overturned the next day by a vote of 192-232.

"Last time, the amendment failed because opponents made grossly exaggerated claims about its effects." Schlickeisen said. "This time, we have to be sure that truth and sound science win out. Huge corporate agribusiness lobbying and fairy tales are no excuse for slaughtering by the tens of thousands these animals, most of which have not done anything threatening and have not preyed on livestock."

Today’s Wildlife Services is the same program that, until recently, was called Animal Damage Control. The primary statutory authority for Wildlife Services comes from the antiquated Animal Damage Control Act of 1931, which contains no reauthorization clause. Congressional review of the act’s provisions and of Wildlife Services performance has been virtually nonexistent. In recent years, Congress has provided some directives to Wildlife Services through report language that the program’s lethal methods should be reduced and that nonlethal alternatives should be used. Since such directives were issued, the number of animals killed each year by Wildlife Services has risen slightly each year.

"To continue funding this program doesn’t make any sense," said Caroline Kennedy, program associate for Defenders of Wildlife. "Any way you look at it, fiscally, biologically, ethically, it doesn’t pass the test."

Intensive preventative control has proved counterproductive. Biologists, including some who work for Wildlife Services, have discovered that preventative control by Wildlife Services frequently misses the dominant pair of coyotes, which are the ones most responsible for livestock loss. Instead, large numbers of other coyotes are killed, which in turn improves the food base for survivors. This results in females reproducing at an earlier age and producing larger litters, as well as in increased pup survival. Thereby, the population increases instead of decreases -– the exact opposite effect of what Wildlife Services seeks to accomplish.

Wildlife Services uses a variety of methods in its killing. Aerial hunting and M-44s are the most common among them. M-44s are spring-loaded baits laced with sodium cyanide that take anywhere from 2 to 15 minutes to kill the animal. Many non-targeted animals, including endangered and threatened species and pets, are killed by M-44s. Last December, an endangered gray wolf was killed by an M-44 outside Yellowstone National Park on public land. This made the third protected wolf killed by M-44's in as many years. Several months ago, a three-year-old girl in Colorado was almost killed by an M-44 triggered by her pet dog. The device had been placed on her parents’ property without their knowledge or consent. Just a few weeks ago, a man in southwestern Virginia lost his pet to an M-44. The man, having also been exposed to the deadly cyanide, contacted Wildlife Services. He was assured by Wildlife Services that there was little risk to humans from the device and that they would contact area hospitals to explain the device and how to treat exposure to it. When the individual followed up with local hospitals some time later, he discovered the agency had not taken these actions as required by law.

The animal damage control program was created when the sheep industry was at its peak of roughly 52 million head nationwide. Since then, the western sheep industry has declined by nearly 70 percent per year to its current size of approximately 7 million head. During the same time period, the Wildlife Services annual budget has increased from an average of $3 million to what is today more than $29 million.

"To make taxpayers continue to pay for a biologically unsound, ineffective program where the rule is ‘kill everything in sight’, without any reasoning behind it, is just plain ludicrous," said Schlickeisen. "It’s way past time to bring Wildlife Services under control."

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270