If You Pay Taxes, You're Funding the Inhumane Killing of America's Wildlife

In March, a 14-year-old boy watched his dog suffer an agonizing death after he unknowingly activated an M-44 sodium cyanide bomb on public lands just outside his backyard. Curiosity about what looked like a harmless sprinkler turned quickly to confusion at the powder sprayed in the boy's face and then grief when he helplessly watched as the powder turned to deadly poison gas in his dog's mouth. The boy's exposure to cyanide was thankfully not fatal, but he suffered from headaches, nausea, and respiratory issues for weeks following the tragedy. He likely will never forget the trauma of watching his beloved dog's body seized by poison and drained of all life.


But the tragedies don't start or stop there. Within the course of a month, M-44 bombs killed a wolf in Oregon (where imperiled gray wolves are just starting to regain a foothold), two family dogs in Wyoming and a cougar in New Mexico in addition to the dog in Idaho. These horrific poison bombs are placed by “Wildlife Services” (the ironically named program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) that works to protect agricultural interests by any means possible. The USDA calls these deaths "unintentional take." M-44s have been unintentionally taking people's companion animals for a long time, and you and I pay for it. 

A weapon used for terrorism and genocide, sodium cyanide crystals—released from M-44s or Nazi gas chambers—quickly turn to hydrogen cyanide gas when mixed with moisture (for example, saliva in the victim’s mouth). The poisoning acts quickly enough that, without an antidote in hand, the victim is unlikely to be treated in time to avoid death, but not quickly enough to avoid suffering through several excruciating minutes while cyanide deprives cells of oxygen. It quite literally causes you to suffocate in every fiber of your being. 

From Virginia to Oregon, thousands of M-44s are still on our public lands, along with other cruel tools including traps and snares more appropriate for a medieval torture chamber than the protected areas in which so many of us recreate. In 2016 alone, Wildlife Services used various weapons to surreptitiously kill almost 1.6 million native animals at the behest of agribusiness with our tax dollars, on our public lands. The highest death toll: 76,963 coyotes considered a threat simply because they live within the vicinity of grazing cattle or sheep, which in the American West is practically everywhere.

Wildlife Services’ operations are wrong on practical, scientific, economic and moral levels: poisons and other lethal tools jeopardize human and non-human life, are ineffective at protecting livestock and are not supported by the public, but paid for with public taxpayer dollars. The tragedies detailed above and the science detailed below are proof of the need to transition away from the status quo slaughter toward safer alternatives and more sustainable livelihoods.

Contrary to some ranchers' claims that these weapons of mass destruction are needed to prevent carnivores from killing livestock, the best available science shows time and again that the objective is rarely achieved through killing. The average rancher thinks that if you mow down all coyotes in a given vicinity, you’ll prevent any wily critters from even looking twice at a sheep. But science tells us the effect only lasts for about eight months, at which point coyote populations compensate for all the death with more birth. Setting poison bombs and shooting coyotes from the air does exactly what you’d expect: create chaos. Usually stable family groups are torn apart and younger, inexperienced individuals are left to fend for themselves and potentially pick easy targets: unattended domestic animals. Killing makes the problem worse, not better.

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(image: Wildlife Guardians)

On one level, the folks who support this slaughter do so in defense of the domestic animals in their charge. On another level, they are defending the status quo despite the fact that many ranching operations grazing on our public lands are marginally profitable at best and require significant federal subsidies to remain afloat. Because previous generations did their best to wipe out carnivores, many ranchers think they should call on Wildlife Services to continue the tradition. Except that's crazy because, as the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Slaughtering coyotes isn't going to save struggling public lands ranchers. Fortunately, effective, nonlethal alternatives to the status quo slaughter are readily available to keep wildlife and livestock alive and improve long-term viability of rural, western livelihoods and landscapes. The Wood River Wolf Project is one example of a program helping and funding ranchers to implement effective non-lethal deterrents. Tools range from age-old, time-tested and low tech−such as human presence of range riders (i.e., modern shepherds) and livestock guardian dogs−to modern and cutting-edge solar-powered fencing and automated noisemakers and spotlights. For those looking to transition out of the grazing business, voluntary grazing permit retirement is a good option. Creative, collaborative thinking results in more ideas. 

The alternatives do not cost more and luckily the money is already available. Wildlife Services' budget was over $127 million in 2014 alone. A single hour of aerial gunning can cost $865. Instead of using that money to create chaos and suffering, we should be asking how many range riders could be paid for their much more effective services?

It's pretty difficult to keep track of what the federal government is doing nowadays. Every day holds news of some new travesty. But unlike some of the other challenges, Wildlife Services' bad deeds are something we can change now:

  • First, you can watch my recent speech and read our report on Wildlife Services' past and present problems as well as our vision for a future, reformed program that truly serves ranchers, the public and wildlife.

  • Then sign our petition to make our public lands free of cruel trapping, poisoning and aerial gunning.

  • Share these resources with your friends to spread the word that we must ensure our public lands are safe for our families, companion animals or wildlife.

  • Finally, call your representatives and ask them to support the recently introduced H.R. 1817 the Chemical Poisons Reduction Act of 2017 to ban these dangerous poisons

Humans value tradition. But traditions that no longer work for us, such as blindly killing carnivores across vast landscapes or lobotomies, are inevitably abandoned. Humans have moral minds to ask: How ought we treat others, including those unlike us? Who deserves protection? The sanctity of all life, self-sustaining livelihoods, stewardship of our shared ecosystems—these are American values that deserve protection. Wildlife Services does not serve American values and must be reformed to align with those values and the best available science. Otherwise, it must be eliminated and sent into the annals of history as an embarrassment of massively immoral proportions.

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