The Worst People in America: Dept. of Wildlife Services

If we are in the midst of the sixth extinction, we can credit the Department of Wildlife Services for hastening our fate. The government agency is responsible for the “intentional” and “unintentional” deaths — their adjectives, not mine — of some four million wild creatures a year. Run under the umbrella of the US Department of Agriculture (here, the hens run the foxhouse) it has been in business of “wildlife damage management” since 1895. It’s an efficient behemoth: about a dozen field offices all over the country, some two thousand employees, and arsenal of poisons, baits, traps, snares weapons, vehicles, and an aerial gunning fleet of planes and helicopters. It’s also got an annual operating budget, half from the government (so, us), and half by “partners, ” amounting to $112.5 million in 2014, give or take.

Among the wild animals Wildlife Services lists as “killed / euthanized” in 2014: American alligators, anhingas, armadillos, avocets, badgers, largebout bass, bats, black bears, beavers, bitterns, blackbirds, bobcats, snow buntings, cardinals, feral or “free ranging” cats, chickens, chipmunks, cormorants, cowbirds, coyotes (61,000, using methods from neck snares to exploding collars to airplanes), sandkill cranes, crows, 8 different species of deer, feral or loose dogs (including 28 “unintentionally”), domestic animals, assorted, 6 species of doves, 28 different kinds of ducks, bald eagles (by accident), egrets, falcons, finches, fishers, foxes, frogs, geese (including 21,210 Canada Geese), gulls, hawks, herons, iguanas, 305 mountain lions, monitor lizards, loons, magpies, purple martins, minks, mockingbirds, moles and monkeys, and that just stops at M. Then, just a taste of the rest of the list: owls, pelicans, 78,207 pigeons, pronghorn antelope, rabbits, ravens, raccoons, seagulls, wolves, and woodpeckers. All, just so you know, because they were inflicting some form of damage.

blacktailedprairiedog_276Just like the same shady awful that has scraped the veneer of democracy right off our American idealist skins and spawned a whole lot of American evil, Wildlife Services operates in that blood-stained never-neverland between public and private interests, and it always has. It is, in that way, a heritage asshole, long in the pockets of ranchers, farmers, and the livestock industry, then aviation and railroad companies, and any private interest that has a beef with a critter. It was spawned in the days when we still saw wild lands as rape-able territory, and has historically enforced our illusion of eminent domain out west (kill them wolves, please) as well as the rest of the country.

Charged with protecting our agricultural resources (such as “meat” and GMO crops), it received a few name changes — until 1997 it was called, euphemistically, Animal Damage Control. The incredible scope and power it now has (it can kill anything but “urban rodents”) stems from legislation that basically uncocked its trigger in 1987. This is indiscriminate killing in the name of protecting, in the name of agriculture, things that we want to be able to kill or harvest later. It is destruction beyond comprehension, a broad spectrum murder disorder. But even in this age of drones and cyberstalking, noone seems to know what Wildlife Services are really doing, and why, if they cause so much overt suffering, they won’t stop.

Darn if they don’t keep getting in trouble for insanely brutal (before you click this next link, serious trigger warning) animal abuse, and for violating the same laws they’re supposedly chartered under. Among pending lawsuits is one filed this past February by five major conservation organizations, charging WS with wanton destruction in Idaho: in one year they killed more than 3,000 mammals in Idaho via: aerial gunning, neck snares, foothold traps, and M-44s (which spray sodium cyanide into an animals mouth, a prolonged and awful death). “Current science doesn’t support the arbitrary killing of animals as a ‘management tool,” said one of the program directors involved. But true to the American version of evil, this is clearly not about science.

black-footed_ferret-1Wildlife Services has frequently been taken to task — for killing the wrong species (while bombing beaver dams they tend to kill a whole mess of fish), for killing endangered species when they could easily resort to other methods. Their public relations team has clearly worked overtime to promote their research into “humane capture.” But why relocate when you can just kill — especially when that means you have to actually keep the animals alive? Some of those “unintentional” deaths happen because they’re idiots, some because they don’t give shit: when a team of sharpshooters rounds up and then kills 400 Canada Geese in Prospect Park, that’s not about being humane. Meanwhile, lawsuit pending or not, the department just gunned down another pack of protected gray wolves in Idaho for eating a lamb. Forget the fact that the sheep were grazing on wild lands, or the sheep herd  was enormous and hard to manage, or that the sheepherder apparently did not provide adequate cover or protection for his sheep, or that he was clearly in wolf country. Forget all of that, entirely.

Got a nuisance woodpecker on yer hands? Call them fellers in Wildlife Services. They’ll blow that fucking woodpecker and all its hatchlings and the freaking tree they live in to bits. Worried that herd of pretty white-tailed deer way up yonder may somehow transmit some expensive, as in lethal, disease to all those miserable veal calves moaning in their little dome crates? No worries! Wildlife Services will kill them all. Thank goodness those little calves are safe.

Here’s this agency, the subject of countless lawsuits, injunctions, investigations, and outcries, and yet it never stops killing. Occasionally, a dog eats the poison they laid out for a coyote, and it gets in big trouble, because, well, dog. Or a staff trapper decides he’s sick of his neighbor’s dog and uses one of those government steel jawed traps to torture it, then stupidly posts the photos of the terrified, bloodied spaniel mix. Other than that, they are out there, every day and night, providing their services; eradicating, lawsuits or not, as certain as global warming, and even with a global reach. In the guise of “mitigating airport hazards,” they have jetted off to airports in 3 U.S. territories and 9 foreign countries to — mitigate.

Most of evils in this ignominious evil Americans series have perpetrated their offenses on humans. There have been other casualties along the way, such as Earth. Also: donkeys, nearly the entire traumatized population of the Baghdad Zoo (Rumsfeld; Cheney, Obama); untold bunnies, lab rats, monkeys, cats, and beagles, PMU mares and foals for the sake of hair dye, cosmetics and hormones (Hasselbeck; possibly Scalia, definitely Cruise, undoubtedly Trump, possibly Suge Knight); countless birds who fly in the path of a gold-plated private jet (Trump again); and all those impudent wild creatures that have the nerve to try and habitate on the shimmering lawns of golf courses (yup, Trump). Of the latter, good chance Trump could call Wildlife Services on their brand new enhanced hotline, brush a greedy hand down his ginger pate, and say that the crows are stealing his customer’s golf balls. That’s reason enough to kill the crows.

Australian+Raven+and+Golf+Ball+IMG_6261And yes, I know, Wildlife Services is not a human. There are indeed figureheads, administrators whose bland faces are cheery thumbnails on the website, but the policy, and the intense mechanics and smokescreening that goes on within is not the work of one diabolical man, but the entire American system; a combination of wild-west bravado, sheer wanton buffalo-killing marksmanship, and an opague net of bureaucracy. And clearly, no one who works at Wildlife Services is there to save the seagull. So in the Scalia et al perversion that says that a corporation (as in, a group of people united in a cause or mission) is a person, this here is an evil American.

Now consider the term wildlife, and then consider its point of view. The term smacks of fuckoff doublespeak: like collateral damage, so unspecific as to be a black hole of identification, immune to sentiment, immune to value. Sentience obfuscated, appropriated. And yet to a wild animal, be it a sparrow or a wolf, a gopher or a frog, a snake, an ant, Wildlife Services may as well be a person, or the Devil himself. Which, historically for a wild animal, means human, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop any time soon.

What Wildlife Services does is exist, and fulfill its mission, with a Rumsfeldian impunity. One thing they’re kind of amazing at: the same kind of “you believe us, don’t you?” willful lies, totally straightfaced and tax-dollar intensive, that lots of bad bad bad people do. A photograph of a bunch of sheep with what looks like a smiling Akbash dog (a gigantic breed that guards sheep) has one of those quiet captions just seeping with good image: For centuries, livestock protection dogs have helped ranchers protect livestock from predators. Wildlife Services provides research and guidance on the use of livestock protection dogs. Meanwhile, think about those wolves in Idaho, or the more than 300 endangered gray wolves “taken” on that 2014 list. And just how were they killed? Just consult the list: those were intentional. All of them. WOLVES-articleLarge



About Jana Martin

Jana Martin is the author of Russian Lover and Other Stories (Yeti Books / VerseChorus Press), as well as numerous books of nonfiction, including Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (Abbeville Press), Great Inventions, Good Intentions (Chronicle Books) and Scarlett Saves Her Family (Simon & Schuster). Her stories and short prose have been published in such journals as Glimmer Train, Five Points, Mississippi Review online, Spork, Willow Springs, and Turnstile, and her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Chronogram, Tucson Weekly, and many other publications. She is a former member of Eagle Valley Search Dogs, a K-9 rescue team in the Hudson Valley, and was for years a bass and guitar player and lead singer in various unsung punk and indie bands. She recently closed her Etsy shop to write a book about wolves.
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2 Responses to The Worst People in America: Dept. of Wildlife Services

  1. animal rights says:

    For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from which they shy away. These are the manger and the cross. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no privilege, no prospects; they are judged.

  2. Cheryl says:

    Your commentary is excellent and well presented. I didn’t know we had such a “service” dedicated to the killing of our fellow animals. My heart breaks for the disregard of these animals they are trying to eradicate.


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