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The US Wildlife Services might be facing lawsuits from environmental groups after its report showed killing more than 1.2 million native animals in the United States.

WildEarth Guardians, a non-profit grassroots environmental organization, has filed a lawsuit against the Wildlife Services - an agency under the US Department of Agriculture, for its agricultural programs that involved killing wildlife in Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico.

"Wildlife Services is infamous for the scope and cruelty of its killing campaigns across the nation," said Chris Smith, southern Rockies wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians, in a statement from the organization.

Swift Fox
(Photo: WildEarth Guardians Twitter Account)
A Swift Fox, one of the species affected by the Wildlife Services' killing of wild animals as a part of an agricultural program.

Based on Outdated Data and Studies

In the same statement, WildEarth claimed that the Wildlife Service program, formerly known as "Animal Damage Control," is dependent on "scientific studies and data from the 1970s and 80s," adding that it does not have an Environmental Impact Statement - a summary of the expected impact of the proposed activities on the environment where it will be conducted: the natural, physical, and people populations in the area.

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According to the published data from the Wildlife Services, there were a total of 2,240,802 animals killed or euthanized, comprising 7.07 percent of affected wildlife. Some 40,710 animals were "removed/ destroyed" (0.13 percent) while 28,773 animals were "freed/ released/ relocated." 

Among the animals affected, based on the breakdown of data by species, the agency intentionally killed 1,432 woodchucks, 61,882 coyotes, 11,352 cormorants, 1,226 red foxes, 1,728 red-tailed hawks, 24,543 beavers, 2,637 green iguanas, 300 mountain lions, 393 black bears, and 301 gray wolves.

WildEarth filed the lawsuit at the New Mexico federal district court, requesting for an updated environmental analysis of the program and to put all killings on hold until the updated study is completed.

 

Indiscriminate Use of Traps and Poisons

"To carry out such a horrific onslaught on native wildlife in the midst of a mass extinction event and a climate crisis, without any real knowledge of the impact, is utterly outrageous," Smith added.

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The statement from WildEarth also notes that the federal agency either shot, trapped, or poisoned the animals. For example, the environmental non-profit claimed that "Wildlife Services shot or poisoned over prairie dogs," citing that this species is "an important desert ecosystem engineer." WildEarth added that the agency used lethal and poisoned oats that specifically targets the prairie dogs.

Additionally, among the species killed off in the program are swift foxes, which has been straddling the line in the IUCN list of endangered species. According to the data, six were intentionally killed while seven deaths were unintentional. WildEarth claimed this to be a common phenomenon in the use of traps and poisons. Relatives of the swift foxes, the gray fox, saw close to 1,200 intentional kills but included 164 unintentional deaths.

The multi-million dollar initiative, under the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), is an agriculture program aimed to survey and control predator populations, especially those near farmlands. In a June 2020 report, it included surveys from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, summarizing the annual losses of sheep, goat, and cattle to predatory species in the US.

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