27 June 2014
Humboldt County Board of Supervisors
Rex Bohn, Chairperson
re: cancel contract with USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services
Dear Supervisor Bohn, et al
I am writing to you regarding the County’s contract with USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services.
I am sure that each of you is aware of the controversial nature of this branch of the Department of Agriculture. The controversy stems, not simply from the use of lethal measures to address human/wildlife conflicts, but from the secretive nature of the program, from the documented cruelty practiced by some of its agents, from the documented instances of endangered species, threatened species and family pets that have been killed unintentionally, from the cases of illegal activity committed by Wildlife Services (WS) agents that have been exposed without repercussion, from the systemic lack of accountability of the program at all levels.
These problems are well known. They have also been documented over the course of many decades, beginning with the early 1930s (Olaus Murie’s internal report, 1931) through the Sacramento Bee’s 2012 series, The Killing Agency.
These practices, which are wholly unbefitting a government agency, are also in direct opposition to moral values, scientific knowledge, principles of adaptive management, and the desires of the American people.
My own experiences with Wildlife Services have forced me to conclude that the agency’s culture is prone toward rogue violence.
While responding to the worst petroleum pipeline spill in the United States – the Kalamazoo Spill in Michigan in 2010 – I worked in the field with WS. US Fish and Wildlife personnel eventually forced WS agents to partner with wildlife caregivers due to their consistently inhumane methods of capturing oiled wildlife. At one point the entire response was jeopardized by WS agents insistence that oiled Canada geese be shot rather than rescued. Fortunately, more intelligent and compassionate arguments prevailed. If they hadn’t this would have been the first time in US history that victims of an oil spill had been killed rather than rehabilitated – a violation of federal laws (e.g., Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Oil Pollution Act of 1990).
Sadly, we don’t need to leave Humboldt County to find examples of WS’s shadowy cruelty. In May, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center(HWCC) received a call from a member of the public who was angry and distressed about baby raccoons who had been left to die under her mother’s house.
Her mother had called Animal Control of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office to seek assistance with an animal under her home. She was given the number of the county trapper. Identifying himself as Wildlife Services, he told the homeowner that the animal was a male raccoon with no babies. Now, this alone is highly suspicious. Why else would a raccoon be using a crawlspace in Spring?
After he had trapped and killed the raccoon, who of course was a female, and after the babies died and began to rot and smell, the homeowner tried to reach him, but to no avail. Then they called us. We went under the house, removed the dead babies, who were exactly where we would have looked if they had called us first – in the void between the built-in tub and the wall.
I have tried to reach the “county trapper” but he has not returned my calls. I have also asked the county for any reports that APHIS-WS submits regarding their contractual activity in Humboldt County. I have received no response.
HWCC, every day of the year, counsels members of the public who have wildlife conflicts. These problems are easy to resolve without resorting to lethal measures. We do this without charge! Our phone number is widely available. Our information is made public on the internet, through print journalism, through radio public service announcements and through word of mouth. This is our area of expertise – an expertise earned the old-fashioned way: on the front lines.
We maintain a Humane Solutions team that is available for everything from consultation to doing the physical work of humanely convincing a wild animal to leave an area and then making the necessary adjustments to ensure the problem is solved.
Of course it is true that most human wildlife conflicts are caused by poor human practices. Given this, resorting to lethal means, except in the cases of immediate threats to public safety (e.g, confrontations with Bears and Mountain Lions) is unjustifiably immoral.
On June 19, I started a petition on Change.org to the administrators of the Department of Agriculture responsible for APHIS-WS. The petition demands standards of transparency and accountability be applied to APHIS such as every other government agency is legally required to meet. After 11 days the petition has received over 70,000 signatures. It is safe to say that citizens of every stripe do not want wildlife assassins working without accountability, out of public view, free to use whatever lethal means they wish, and with no repercussions. I can certainly say that I don’t.
I encourage this Board, and its individual members, to dig deeper into what this agency does, what it reports, what it covers up. The agency’s culture of “shoot, shovel and shut up” is well documented if not well known. This is not an issue of right versus left or conservative versus liberal. The actions of WS, when they become known, are horrible to hunter and vegan alike. The repugnant actions of Wildlife Services do not fill a void, they create one. They create a void where our values would be.
Thank you for considering eliminating the $67,000 portion of our county’s budget that is set aside for cruelty and ignorance. I hope unreservedly that the amount spent in 2013-14 is the last time that Humboldt County spends taxpayer money on something so reprehensible. Humboldt Wildlife Care Center/Bird Ally X are available to help build a more humane future for human/willdife co-existence.
For more information and for a list of some sources to look further please visit the Bird Ally X site and look at this post. http://birdallyx.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/opaque-and-obstinate/
To view the Change.org petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/wildlife-services-stop-slaughtering-millions-of-wild-animals
To view the petition to initiate rule-making that was brought by Center for Biological Diversity, Project Coyote, and others: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/pdfs/Wildlife_Services_Rulemaking_Petition_Dec_2_2013.pdf