Hungry For Extinction
Conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts are fretting about recent efforts to revoke the gray wolf’s endangered status. Meanwhile, hundreds of wolves are being killed under the radar by a completely different threat. The same culprit kills millions of other wildlife species annually. What is it? Here’s a hint: the livestock industry is behind it and America’s hunger for beef is fueling it.
Livestock ranchers and predatory species such as wolves have never been on friendly terms. As settlers in the 19th century began to kill off natural prey populations such as bison, elk and deer, wolves resorted to plundering cattle. In response, ranchers turned to bounty hunters and other methods of eradication. This quickly evolved into government-sanctioned extermination programs, which wiped out most of the gray wolf population in the lower 48 states. The government continues their extirpation of these and other species.
A Secretive Agency
Wildlife Services is a little known agency under the USDA’s Department of Agriculture. In 2016 alone, they reported 2.7 million animals killed, including 415 gray wolves (whistleblowers claim the numbers are likely much higher).
The goal of the agency is, supposedly, “to resolve wildlife conflicts and create a balance that allows people and wildlife to coexist peacefully.” Yet nearly all of their work involves killing animals. Typically, the victims are those that threaten agricultural profits. This includes anything from wolves that prey on cattle to geese that compete with grazing areas.
The agency lacks a regulatory code, evades fiscal transparency and is known to prefer to inhumane, antiquated methods like leg-hold traps, cyanide, neck snares and poison. Oftentimes their methods are indiscriminate, meaning unintended animals are killed. In an effort to keep their actions concealed, Wildlife Services fails to notify nearby residents of their work, resulting in torturous deaths of family pets.
In addition to the 415 gray wolves killed in 2016, the agency killed 76,963 adult coyotes (plus they destroyed 430 coyote dens, likely killing pups that weren’t included in the count); 14,654 prairie dogs; 3,791 foxes; an unknown number of pups in 128 dens, which were destroyed; 21,184 beavers; 997 bobcats; 407 black bears; 334 mountain lions; and 535 river otters.
Cattle ranching is a lucrative business, with the US beef industry valued at 105 million dollars annually. Both ranchers and the government are eager to keep it that way. Hence, predators that take a bite of those profits are killed without a second thought. In fact, ranchers are some of the staunchest opponents to wildlife protection efforts. America’s appetite for beef kills wildlife.
While Wildlife Services doesn’t work solely with agricultural interests, it appears to cater to them. Some have called the agency merely a subsidy for the livestock industry. Retired Wildlife Services agent Carter Niemeyer sums it up to last year’s issue of Harper’s magazine, “Ranchers call us up, and the system kicks in, guns blazing.”
Yet, a recent study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment supports prior theories that there is “little scientific evidence that killing predators actually accomplishes the goal of protecting livestock,” as reported in National Geographic.
A Peaceful Solution
Although the organization is charged with begetting a peaceful coexistence, they are simply killing millions of certain species so that other people are able to kill more of other species. Kill more wolves so we can slaughter more cattle; kill more coyotes so we can sell more beef. Where is the balance, peace or coexistence in that? Fortunately, there is a better way and it starts with you: peace begins on your plate.