Conservationists in the US are ringing the alarm on recent data released from the US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, which reported that it was responsible for killing, both intentionally and unintentionally, 1.75 million animals across the country in 2021.
Wildlife Services – a division that defends the killings, which amounted to 200 deaths per hour last year, as being necessary for the protection of the agricultural sector in the US – oversees the federal wildlife-killing programme.
Though the program, which recorded its deadliest years in 2008 and 2010 with 5 million animals slaughtered, is targeted to keep the population of invasive species down, over the course of every year there are hundreds of thousands of native species killed.
In last year’s report, it found that a total of 404,538 native species were killed, which included 324 gray wolves, 64,131 coyotes, 433 black bears, 200 mountain lions, 605 bobcats, 3,014 foxes, 24,687 beavers, and 714 river otters.
Wildlife Services described in their annual report the method – snare, trap, poison, gas, firearm – by which each animal accounted for died, a number that conservation groups, like The Center for Biological Diversity, believe is a vast undercount.
“These figures almost certainly understate the actual number of animals killed, as program insiders have revealed that Wildlife Services kills many more animals than it reports,” the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group based in the US, said in their statement on the annual report.
Not all animals killed in the federal program are done so intentionally, and the agency distinguishes between those that were targeted and those that met a too-early death because of another intervention the agency attempted for controlling species population.
In total, there were 2,746 animals that died as a result of these kinds of accidents, including nine black bears caught in snares, 152 coyotes through foothold traps, one bald eagle from a body grip trap and hundreds more of other animals.
“It’s stomach-turning to see this barbaric federal program wiping out hundreds of thousands of native animals,” Collette Adkins, a carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
Ms Adkins went on to note that the “killing carnivores like wolves and coyotes’’ ultimately just leads to more conflicts and more killing. “This is a truly vicious cycle, and we’ll continue to demand change from Wildlife Services.”
Of particular concern were the 324 gray wolves killed by Wildlife Services, all of which were denoted as intentional deaths. Gray wolves are a species that recovered from near-extinction only in recent decades and just last month was provided the federal protection the species lost during the final months of Donald Trump’s tenure.
“It’s inexcusable that Wildlife Services continues to target rare and ecologically important animals like wolves and grizzly bears, forcing them to suffer and die in cruel traps and snares,” Ms Adkins said.
For the bears, there were six grizzlies killed (all intentionally) and 433 black bears, with only 12 deaths being marked as unintentional.
Even with this year’s grim milestone, it still didn’t mark the most deadly year and actually reflected a general trend that the targeted killing of both invasive and native species has been on the decline.
In 2020, the total number of animals killed was under 2 million for the first time since 2006, while the total number of native species killed was as high as 1.3 million in 2019. And though the more than 400,000 native animals killed in 2021 is still a devastating figure, it’s less than a third of what it was just a few years ago.
While the deaths as a whole enrage conservationists, there is a specific method that the division continues to employ in their federally controlled killings that they is perhaps more contentious than the actual deaths themselves: poisonings.
In the 2020 year, Wildlife Services carried out 7,573 poisonings using M-44 cyanide bombs, which the agency describes as being an “effective and environmentally sound wildlife damage management tool”. The canisters, more commonly referred to as “cyanide bombs”, release the toxic substance when tugged at by animals.
And it’s not always unsuspecting animals who stumble across these devices that spew toxic orange cyanide powder.
In 2017, 14-year-old Canyon Mansfield was walking his dog on a hill behind his home in Pacatello, Idaho when he came across one of these “cyanide bombs”, mistaking it for a sprinkler head.
While the Mr Mansfield escaped the near fatal poisoning, his dog, Kasey, did not. The family now travels the country sharing their story in an attempt to build support for eventually banning M-44s.