What is it with the rural West’s devout loathing of coyotes — the culturally reinforced, knee-jerk impulse to raise the rifle and shoot one from the pickup for no other reason than it’s there?

There’s no convincing scientific reason that says the haphazard, indiscriminate mowing down of individual coyotes imparts any lasting benefits for big game prey species or for (publicly supported) protection of private livestock on public lands. Nor is there a biological basis or compelling rationale found in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation for holding coyote derbies.

As a lifelong hunter, I know. Ethical hunting, as it was taught to me, isn’t about killing animals out of spite. It’s about sustenance, love of the outdoors, reverence, expressing gratitude (in the West, for public lands) and leading new generations by example.

So what’s the anti-coyote thing really about?

Brooks Fahy has invested 30-plus years ruminating. No conservationist has devoted more continuous attention to what he calls “America’s war on wildlife,” and it has nothing to do with hunting.

The founder of Predator Defense said this campaign is led by an arm of the federal government few urban Americans have ever heard of. Wildlife Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is, in his words, “a rogue agency out of control.”

Sure, Wildlife Services does some vital work, such as preventing birds from striking passenger jets landing at commercial airports, controlling rabies and repelling pests, such as exotic starlings, that lay waste to farmers’ crops.

But Fahy said it’s merely cover for Wildlife Services’ intensive focus on killing wildlife predators, sometimes using banned or dangerous poisons, gunning animals from airplanes, trapping and snaring carnivores based on dubious evidence, killing imperiled nontarget species and even accidentally slaying people’s pets.

Fahy’s award-winning documentary “Exposed: USDA’s Secret War on Wildlife” is now free on YouTube, but beware: While the half-hour film sails along, it’s tough to stomach the conduct of Wildlife Services illuminated by former employees turned whistleblowers, some of whom lay out the agency’s damning conduct in Wyoming.

Congressman Peter DeFazio, of Oregon, has pushed for a major overhaul of Wildlife Services, saying the outfit is utterly incapable of reforming itself. He has been an ally of a push by Predator Defense, Project Coyote and other groups to get the ultralethal biocide 1080 and the poison ejector devices known as M-44s, filled with sodium-cyanide, banned because of dangers they pose to people, pets, nontarget animals and the environment.

I’ve been writing about Wildlife Services, formerly known as Animal Damage Control, since the early 1990s, and over the past quarter century little has changed.

One irony is that during this age in which rural Westerners accuse federal agencies of being incompetent, unaccountable and nontransparent, Wildlife Services has been given a free pass from Sagebrush Rebel lawmakers. Yet if any government entity is guilty of evading oversight it is Wildlife Services.

Reporter Ben Goldfarb penned an excellent piece titled “Wildlife Services and its eternal war on predators” for the Jan. 25 edition of High Country News. Here are two sentences from his story that tell us pretty much all we need to know: “In 2014, Wildlife Services exterminated 796 bobcats, 322 wolves, 580 black bears, 305 cougars and 1,186 red foxes. And that’s nothing compared to coyotes. That year, the agency killed 61,702, one coyote every eight and a half minutes.”

Hundreds of millions of tax dollars have been spent killing public wildlife, sometimes far in excess of the value of private livestock receiving subsidized protection on public lands.

Last week former Wildlife Services and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service trapper Carter Niemeyer told me that over the past couple of decades one wolf has been killed for every documented dead beef cow.

Sometimes lethal control is necessary, but Niemeyer said Wildlife Services is guilty of overkill based on exaggerated, unverified claims.

For the March issue of Harper’s Magazine, Christopher Ketcham wrote a hard-hitting examination of Wildlife Services that echoes Fahy’s documentary. It also mirrors revelations brought to light in an explosive series by reporter Tom Knudson that appeared in The Sacramento Bee.

No recent GOP Congress, contemptuous of the federal government, has subjected Wildlife Services to intense scrutiny. Why is that?

Columnist Todd Wilkinson is author of “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek” about famous grizzly 399 featuring photographs by Jackson Hole photographer Thomas Mangelsen (Mangelsen.com/grizzly).

Recommended for you

(11) comments

Jeff Kochan

To Todd Wilkinson;

I have enjoyed most of your articles, especially those written in defense of Wyoming's wildlife, and look forward to reading many more of your opinions on this subject.

One criticism I might offer is that after presenting a subject that effectively winds us up to want to do something, you end your articles without any recommendations. If possible, please conclude your articles by pointing us in the right direction of where and to whom we may voice support for your opinion, not just letters to the editor, but preferably to someone official who might be in a position to effect a change.

I look forward to your response.

Jeffrey P Kochan MD, FCPP
Wilson, WY

Todd Wilkinson

Hi Jeffrey,
Appreciate your words and I take your point.
If I would make any suggestion along the lines of action citizens can take it would be these:

1. Wildlife Services evades accountability, not just in how it spends its money and the toll it exacts, but it has not had the serious scrutiny of oversight applied. There are many, many, many whistleblowers who worked for the agency or investigated it, who have been muzzled. Let a bi-partisan, non-partisan Congress hold public hearings on the agency.

2. Predator control is not informed by science. It has largely been seat of the pants. I would ask the National Academy of Sciences to convene the best biologists in the land to review Wildlife Service's methods. Certainly, there are places where there's no alternative to lethal control, but non-lethal methods have also proved effective. Moreover, is it the responsibility of the American taxpayer to provide subsidized protection for private livestock on public land against public wildlife (bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars)?

3. You are right about "not just letters to the editor" but letters to the editor are important. I applaud you for commenting here. Elected officials too need to be held to account. Those who blindly support Wildlife Services should be asked to produce the data that justifies the lack of oversight, and continued expenditures, and the use of biocides to basically provide publicly subsidized predator control on public lands. They should show us the evidence that supports it and if they deflect or obfuscate, they ought to be publicly challenged. In this era of cynicism directed toward federal agencies, apply the same level of scrutiny to Wildlife Services that is aimed at the National Park Service, Forest Service, BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service etc.

Lastly, I don't provide recommendations in my columns because I am approaching the issues as a journalist, not as an activist. My question: Why aren't more NGO's (environmental organizations) demanding accountability? Greater Yellowstone has one of the highest concentration of professional wild land conservationists, per capita, in the country. Seems to me their silence on a lot of issues is deafening. Again, thanks for you letter here.

Let's grab breakfast sometime at Nora's.

Grant Spellerberg

Somehow the conversation has been only bird strike related.The article is mostly about the indiscriminate killing of mammals/predators. Wildlife Services does nothing to serve wildlife. It is only serving the livestock industry in the vast majority of cases. Sadly this agency has been a rogue organization that is draining our tax coffers for the so called protection of welfare ranchers.
Politicians are in the livestock industry pockets. Until that ends the killing will continue. Vary sad!

Marion Ambler

"Sure, Wildlife Services does some vital work, such as preventing birds from striking passenger jets landing at commercial airports"

So, since Flight 1549 hit migrating Canada geese in NYC in January, 2009.....the USDA WS has been rounding up and killing thousands of their resident Canada geese and goslings every year. And here are the goose strike stats from JFK Airport as per the FAA birdstrike data base. I do not see any discernible decrease...in fact if anything, they have more goose strikes, despite the fact the resident goose population of NY state has also decreased by thousands. So how does that work...less geese overall, killing thousands of NYCs geese...but more goose strikes at JFK. The science is not there to support this inhumane waste of money.

JFK Airport Goose Strikes as per the FAA BIrd Strike Data Base:

2015 - 1 - Jan 28

2014 - 2 - Jan 18, Mar 12
2013 – 3 - Nov 24, Oct 8, May 5
2012 – 1 - May 18
2011 – 0
2010 – 2- Oct 24, Oct 2
2009 – 1 – Dec 14

2008 – 2 – Feb 14, April 12
2007 – 2 – Nov 11, May 5
2006 – 1 – Feb 23
2005 – 1 – Nov 11
2004 – 0
2003 – 0

2002 – 2 – Oct 29, Aug 19
2001 – 0
2000 – 2 – Oct 23, June 1
1999 – 0
1998 – 1 - May 28
1997 – 0

Marion Ambler

"Sure, Wildlife Services does some vital work, such as preventing birds from striking passenger jets landing at commercial airports"

Why would you say this? Do you know anything about wildlife/bird strike control at airports or the effects of the USDA's killing birds has on birdstrikes??

I will also point out..Flight 1549 in NYC...hit migrating geese from Labrador, Canada. And their Canada goose killing in NYC since then has not even cut down on goose strikes. I have numbers from the FAA birdstrike data base for JFK...they seem to have increased at JFK. So the numbers are not there to support killing birds to protect planes. .

That is as much as a farce as the rest of their killing. And you are likely getting you info from them...the ones you have a problem with. But you accept it for birdstrikes. And it would be nice if one group with a cause did not throw another group under the bus, particularly when they are wrong.

Of course I can't go into all the evidence here but I will point you to one article in National Geographic that shows the hero Captain Scully does not agree that the USDA's bird killing program protects planes.

"Why doesn't the FAA adopt avian radar tracking to help pilots avoid colliding with birds?"

Nearly five years after Capt. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger miraculously landed his crippled US Airways A320 jet on the Hudson River after flying into a flock of Canada geese, he says that the risk of airplanes striking birds is as great today as it was that cold January day in 2009.



For a better understanding of the link between birds and air safety, and how pilots can avoid hitting birds, SULLENBERGER DEFERS TO YOSSI LESHEM, a senior researcher in Tel Aviv University's zoology department. Leshem's research has helped the Israeli Air Force dramatically reduce bird strikes through NON-lethal means.

Leshem says that if a real-time integrated avian radar strategy had been in place at LaGuardia before US Airways Flight 1549 took off, radar technicians would likely have recognized the approaching migratory birds from at least a dozen miles away. Their readings would have been overlaid on the screens of flight controllers, who would then have noted the potential for collision even before Sullenberger started his roll.

"Delaying takeoff by just several minutes or sending him off in a different direction," Leshem says, "would have meant Flight 1549 would not have hit these geese."

This is the lesson that can be taken away by officials everywhere who must confront the persistent risk of bird strikes.


Todd Wilkinson

Marion: You note correctly in your comment that I wrote: "Sure, Wildlife Services does some vital work, such as preventing birds from striking passenger jets landing at commercial airports…."

And in your reply, you write in an apparent question to me, “Why would you say this? Do you know anything about wildlife/bird strike control at airports or the effects of the USDA's killing birds has on birdstrikes??”

As a matter of fact, I do know quite a bit about this issue. And I would say that 142,603 reported wildlife strikes of civilian and commercial aircraft in the US between 1990 and 2013 is a lot. It is frightening, actually. In 66 of those cases, aircraft were destroyed. If you or other readers want to know more, here’s a detailed report recently completed by the Federal Aviation Administration which says that the number of strikes, mostly caused by birds, continues to increase. It is a very serious public safety issue.


Marion Ambler

142,603 reported wildlife strikes of civilian and commercial aircraft in the US between 1990 and 2013. That is 23 years.

This is approximately 6,400 per year for 50 states or 130 birdstrikes per state per year.

They also count a dead bird found on the runway as a 'birdstrike'.

You say birdstrikes are increasing? I say that the FAA has not made reporting birdstrikes mandatory even now.........Flight 1549 caused them to take birdstrike reporting more seriously so what you have is INCREASED REPORTING rather than actual increased birdstrikes.

The FAA has not yet mandated compulsory reporting of birdstrikes. That is how seriously they take this serious risk. This is a damning report on the FAA and their USDA cohorts.


....Office of Inspector General Audit Report

While FAA recommends wildlife strike reporting, it does not require it. Consequently, not all airports choose to report all their wildlife strikes. For example, one airport we visited reported 90 percent of strikes recorded in 2010 to FAA, while another airport reported only 11 percent. Also, FAA does not have policies and guidance for monitoring its progress toward meeting the Program’s goal of reducing wildlife hazards at or near airports. Industry and government experts have recommended using the rate of total strikes and/or damaging strikes as possible performance metrics; however, these metrics will not be useful until FAA
improves the quantity and quality of the data reported to its strike database."

However, FAA’s coordination with other Government agencies
that help mitigate wildlife hazards is not sufficient to effectively manage off
-airport hazards and strikes.


Without full reporting and complete data on wildlife strikes, it is difficult to fully
analyze the magnitude of safety issues, the nature of the problems, and the economic cost of wildlife strikes. FAA reported that “one of the biggest challenges that wildlife managers at airports face today is the lack of good data.” to ascertain where the strike occurred and implement immediate measures to mitigate the risk of another strike.

FAA Lacks Performance Metrics To Measure Progress Toward Its
Program Goal

For program management purposes, FAA is also unable to determine whether increases in strike reporting are due to increases in actual strikes or increased reporting.

Conversely, FAA cannot determine whether decreases in strike
reporting are a result of achieving its program goal or simply a lack of reporting

FAA Lacks Performance Metrics To Measure Progress Toward Its
Program Goals

EVEN THOUGH THE PROGRAM HAS BEEN IN PLACE FOR MORE THAN 50 YEARS, FAA does not have policies and guidance for monitoring its progress toward meeting the Program’s goal of reducing wildlife hazards at or near airports.



Marion Ambler

I will also point out, the International Bird Strike Committee was never too impressed with how the FAA/USDA dealt with the birdstrike issue.

As far back as 2003, the International Bird Strike Committee was very unimpressesd with the FAA and bird strike reporting, or lack of it, in the USA. They refer to their 'management' as 'old safety culture'.

11. Old safety culture

11.1 The FAA’s response to the NTSB recommendation is an example of the old safety culture. This older culture valued punitive action that naturally stifled the free exchange of safety information. This culture is reactive, not pro-active: in other words, wait for the event to take place, then fix the problem after the accident. This culture is not data driven but rather event driven.


Marion Ambler

You gave the number of birdstrikes in the US that averaged about 130 PER STATE per year.

I live in Vancouver, BC. Birdstike reporting has been mandatory in Canada for many years.

YVR gets more birdstrikes reported every year than 1 of your states.

"In 2006 some 244 BIRDS WERE KILLED in 149 collisions with aircraft. According to Transport Canada, our airport averaged 5.7 strikes per 10,000 takeoffs and landings in 2006—the highest strike rate in Canada."

YVR is unique among Canadian airports in that the number of avian visitors actually skyrockets in the winter, thanks to our mild climate. To keep them away from our aircraft, Ball and his team pestered more than 200,000 birds last January. All told, two million birds—over three times the human population of Vancouver—were chased off the airfield in 2006.


THE ISSUE IS......METHODS OF MANAGEMENT. The USDA prefers killing and they can't prove that is very effective....and certainly roundups of resident birds in the summer does NOTHING to protect from the many tens of thousands of birds that migrate spring and summer such as in NYC which is on the Atlantic Flyway.

Vancouver airport does not round up birds around the airport to kill. And not one person has ever died from a birdstrike.

I also want to point out....that American airforce plane that hit geese in 1995 in Alaska WHERE 24 CREWMEN WERE KILLED.....THEY IGNORED an experts opinion on how to deal with their grass to avoid attacting geese. They also were allowing geese to live on their airbase...well that was stupid. And I can't find that document right now but it's there and I can given time. Nobody does that.


"Making Airspace for Birds and Planes"

Russ DeFusco, a leading authority on birdstrikes told this story.

In July 1995 DeFusco gave a similar briefing to officials at Elmendorf Air Force Base outside Anchorage, Alaska. Elmendorf had a notorious Canada geese problem. Migrating flocks liked to rest and feed on the grass surrounding the base’s runways. “You’ve got to watch the RUNWAY GRASS CAREFULLY, and do everything in your power to harass that first migrating bird away from here,” DeFusco told Elmendorf officials. “If he lands and feeds, that sends a signal to the rest of the flock. One bird will draw dozens and then hundreds of others.”

When DeFusco delivered a plan for an aggressive bird management program, the officials put a few suggestions into action BUT IGNORED MOST OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS.

Two months later, on September 22, an Air Force AWACS communication plane struck 25 Canada geese during takeoff. The birds knocked out the two left engines, sending the plane out of control. It crashed in heavy woods outside of Anchorage, destroying the plane and killing all 24 crew members aboard.


Pamela Lambert

The war on wildlife is being paid for by the taxpayers in this country. As far as I know the majority are not interested in decimating wildlife to appeasing ranchers that don't want to live on these ranches if there are challenges. I for one cannot even support the park services because of the killing of bison, wolves and bears to keep stupid people from being killed. [sad]

Jay Westemeier

This article reminds me of my much younger days when I and a fairly large group of my buddies would spend many Saturdays flushing and shooting pigeons from farmers' barns. At the time it seemed to be the 'cool' thing to do and the more we did it, the more we enjoyed the competition and camaraderie it turned into. We were young and our 'gang' couldn't seem to find more constructive things to do at that time. The practice was even encouraged by the farmers we served, which only fed the fire inside of us to please adults. Luckily, I was able to break away from that 'gang' mentality quickly and found many other less destructive things to do during my weekends. Sadly, some of my gang never got over what had become a habit and continued doing it. I liken the subject of the article to a gang that can't break a nasty habit. It just happens that this gang is a federal agency that can't seem to find more constructive things to do. Most of the people involved in these unethical slaughters have been encouraged by their superiors and have undoubtedly been doing it long enough to turn it into a competitive habit. It's the same thing that has happened to many hunters in this country. Because of their naivety of the importance of predators and driven to impress their peers, they break away from whatever ethical and logical senses they might have had.

Welcome to the discussion.

Please note: Online comments may also run in our print publications.
Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Please turn off your CAPS LOCK.
No personal attacks. Discuss issues & opinions rather than denigrating someone with an opposing view.
No political attacks. Refrain from using negative slang when identifying political parties.
Be truthful. Don’t knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be proactive. Use the “Report” link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with us. We’d love to hear eyewitness accounts or history behind an article.
Use your real name: Anonymous commenting is not allowed.
The News&Guide welcomes comments from our paid subscribers. Tell us what you think. Thanks for engaging in the conversation!

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.