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Is Wildlife Services Killing Too Many Animals In San Diego?

Aired 8/21/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Rob Davis, Voice Of San Diego

Larry Hawkins, Wildlife Services


It's a reasonable bet that not many San Diego County residents have ever heard of Wildlife Services, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Yet this agency is responsible for the killing of more than 18,000 animals, mostly in San Diego County's back country, since 2005.

The role of the agency is to protect both endangered species and humans when they come into conflict with wildlife. This may mean wild ducks and geese on golf courses, coyotes attacking farm animals, or hawks attacking the nests of least terns.

After reading an investigative series in the Sacramento Bee on the agency and its role in wildlife killings in Northern California, Rob Davis, a reporter for Voice Of San Diego, embarked on an investigation of his own into what the agency was doing here.


Wildlife Services' Statement

Wildlife Services' Statement

Statement from USDA Wildlife Services.

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Wildlife Services gave him some of the information he wanted to know -- how many animals are killed and the general reasons for the killings -- but often information on why specific kills were made was unavailable. Davis was particularly interested in why animals like great blue herons, meadowlarks, beavers, crows and several species of ducks were killed. He was unable to reconcile the killings of large numbers of coyotes with reports of attacks against humans or farm animals.

Seven mountain lions have also been killed, including one with a collar being tracked by researchers at the University of California at Davis.

Davis' series prompted Representative Susan Davis (D-San Diego, no relation) to introduce legislation in Congress to require Wildlife Services to disclose far more information about the animals they kill across the country than the agency does today.

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Avatar for user 'ecopper'

ecopper | August 21, 2012 at 1:39 p.m. ― 4 years, 7 months ago

I was disappointed to hear Mr. Davis continue to mislead and misrepresent the role of Wildlife Services in the management of natural resources and to hear Ms. Cavanaugh has also not done her homework. In San Diego County, the majority of the animals taken by this agency are removed to protect Threatened and Endangered Species or to prevent bird air strikes - not the "very small fraction" indicated by the host. The agency has been critical to the recovery of the California Least Tern in San Diego and throughout California. Mr. Davis has repeated a figure of 18,000 animals removed by WS over the course of 11 years - which averages out to 1,700/year - a less dramatic figure. In a recently reported hunting harvest for San Diego County more than 50,000 animals were taken in a single year. Many of the animals removed by WS are rodents and/or species not covered under licensed hunting practices and can be removed without accountability by private citizens and commercial pest control operators so WS numbers represent an even smaller percentage of the animals taken by hunters.

Coots are not ducks, they are not even closely related. They can be hunted legally in San Diego County and in the recent DFG "harvest" report more than 900 were taken in that year while those taken by WS averaged fewer than 300 - 900 for sport, 200 some to prevent property damage.

Project Wildlife took in more than 9,000 animals in 2010 and less than half could be released. Based on 2007 figures the breakdown of sources of wildlife injury showed that more than 50% of the wildlife injuries were the result of domestic pets (cats 40%+ and dogs 15%+). Almost 13% were injured by cars and more than 11% flew into windows. These causes of take aren't legally controlled and their reporting isn't mandated. And these are but a few of the sources of wildlife mortality that are not monitored or regulated.

Wildlife Services complies with all environmental laws. Among those, their removal of birds is done under the authority of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird office which sets annual take figures and issues annual depredation permits or by the State of California Department of Fish and Game which issues scientific collecting permits.

As someone who has worked with endangered wildlife for many years and seen the benefits of the efforts of Wildlife Services I can also see that Mr. Davis has not shown any inclination to provide objective reporting. And neither VOSD or KPBS has done a good job of evaluating and editing what is being presented as news. All have done the community a disservice by not recognizing that It is not Wildlife Services who are killing too many animals. With all due deference to Pogo - "It is us"

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Avatar for user 'Gaia'

Gaia | August 21, 2012 at 1:54 p.m. ― 4 years, 7 months ago

I am absolutely appalled at the number of animals killed by Wildlife Services. So often, it's the human's fault in human/animal encounters, yet the wildlife pays the price. When you venture into the back country, you must accept that danger is possible, and you are in the wild animals' home. People really need to get a grip on the fact that we aren't the only species on this planet, and they have a right and a need to be here, too.

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Avatar for user 'Pat Finn'

Pat Finn, KPBS Staff | August 21, 2012 at 2:26 p.m. ― 4 years, 7 months ago

One of Rob Davis's chief concerns is that there is no way to properly evaluate whether the animals killed by Wildlife Services were done so appropriately.

While the agency provided him with numbers of animals and dollar figures of damage caused, the reasons behind many of the killings were not provided. Why, he wanted to know, were 54 beavers killed in the last seven years, when only $30 in damage was attributed to that animal? Why have hundreds of coyotes and several bobcats and mountain lions been killed? All these killings may be for valid reasons, like species preservation or public safety. But, as of now, there is no way to know. Legislation introduced by Rep. Susan Davis may change that.

And, you are right. Although coots look like, swim like, walk like and presumably talk like ducks, they are not.

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