Trump's USDA Sued Over Mass Killing of Native Wildlife
By Andrea Germanos
Days after federal data revealed taxpayers funded the killing of 1.2 million native animal species in 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services program was sued Thursday over what conservation advocates decry as a cruel and misguided annual extermination spree.
"Wildlife Services is infamous for the scope and cruelty of its killing campaigns across the nation," Chris Smith, southern Rockies wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement.
"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," added Smith, "is utterly outrageous."
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico by WildEarth Guardians and accuses Wildlife Services (WS) of running afoul of various federal regulations stipulated by the National Environmental Policy Act, Council on Environmental Quality regulations, and Administrative Procedure Act.
According to the court filing, the program has failed to provide an Environmental Impact Statement on the program's impact on key ecosytems, nor has it provided timely supplemental analysis mandated by law. As such, the document states, WS is disregarding "new scientific publications on the ineffectiveness of lethal predator control and the negative cascading ecological consequences of removing keystone species from their native ecosystems," according to the filing.
WS purportedly exists "to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist." But Smith explains the agency's raison d'etre quite differently. "They are good at one thing—killing animals," Smith told Common Dreams, adding that the program is "still operating on data and science and ideas that are 20, 30, 40 years old."
The lawsuit explains WS in this way:
Every year, Wildlife Services—a program within the USDA—poisons, traps, and guns down several of our nation's most majestic animals, including wolves, bears, coyotes, and mountain lions in a futile attempt to save livestock and other "resources." Funded with millions of taxpayer dollars, and without modern scientific support, this program uses cruel and often archaic methods to capture and kill wildlife from their native ecosystems, largely at the behest of livestock producers. Across New Mexico, Wildlife Services uses fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to aerially shoot coyotes; body-gripping traps, neck snares and leg-hold traps to kill mountain lions, black bears, bobcats, badgers, coyotes, skunks, and swift and gray foxes; gas cartridges and poisons to exterminate coyotes, foxes, and prairie dogs in their dens; sodium cyanide M-44 devices to kill canines like foxes and coyotes; and other poisons to eliminate native birds like ravens. Family pets and federally-protected endangered and threatened species have been and will continue to be accidentally injured or killed by the agency's indiscriminate killing methods.
The latest annual tally of the animals killed by WS—including 1,258,738 native species— drew condemnation from WildEarth Guardians, with Samantha Bruegger, the group's Wildlife Coexistence Campaigner, saying in a statement Wednesday: "This mass slaughter is carried out in our backyards, on public lands, and in beloved parks; there is no limit to the program's reach."
A tweet from New York-based Wolf Conservation Center breaks down a portion of the vast death toll detailed in the WS analysis:
BREAKING In 2019, USDA’s Wildlife Services KILLED: ▪ 62,002 coyotes ▪ 24,543 beavers ▪ 800 bobcats ▪1362 gray… https://t.co/KUwjcNLslM— Wolf Conservation Center (@Wolf Conservation Center)1602115150.0
The deaths often came painfully. A statement from WildEarth Guardians says, "Preferred methods include leg-hold traps, strangulation snares, aerial gunning from helicopters and planes, poison gases, and sodium cyanide bombs [M44s] placed on the landscape."
The lawsuit portrays the annual killing deaths as folly—especially in light of the climate and ecological catastrophes as well water shortages affecting the U.S. West. Regarding beavers, Smith said the agency is "removing the very animals that will save us from these crises."
They "act as ecosystem engineers, increasing biodiversity and ecosystem function—including filtering drinking water and removing water-borne pollutants—where they are native," the filing states, adding:
Beavers, due to their beneficial engineering of ecosystems provide outsized ecosystem services. One study, conducted in southern Utah, a landscape analogous to much of New Mexico, found that in terms of wetland habitat only, a mere 2,560 beavers in the lower Escalante River basin would provide $275.5 million dollars per year in wetland habitat services. If riparian and aquatic habitat services are added to that number, it becomes nearly $450 million dollars per year. [...] Beavers particularly can have remarkable impacts on reforestation in areas affected by wildfires.
Benefits from other animals further prove the misguided annual kills, the filing states.
For example, it is now well established that killing predators such as coyotes, mountain lions, and bears create conditions favorable for pandemics to emerge, diminish ecosystem functions, reduce carbon sequestration, and increase instances of irruptions of invasive species, and cost taxpayers millions—and perhaps billions—of dollars in lost ecosystem services... In an arid region such as New Mexico, which is undergoing rapid ecological changes from climate disruption, it is more important than ever that Wildlife Services takes a hard look at the environmental consequences of removing so many animals critical to regulating ecosystems.
Another conservation group, the Center for Biological Diversity, offered similar condemnation Wednesday, characterizing the program as both barbaric and needless.
"Year after year Wildlife Services continues to needlessly kill wildlife, even though effective tools exist to prevent most conflicts," said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center.
"The scientific consensus is that killing carnivores like coyotes to benefit the livestock industry just leads to more conflicts and more killing," she said, adding, "This taxpayer-funded slaughter needs to stop."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
The excess carbon dioxide emitted by human activity since the start of the industrial revolution has already raised the Earth's temperature by more than one degree Celsius, increased the risk of extreme hurricanes and wildfires and killed off more than half of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef. But geologic history shows that the impacts of greenhouse gases could be much worse.
- Earth Is Hurtling Towards a Catastrophe Worse Than the Dinosaur ... ›
- Are We Doomed If We Don't Curb Carbon Emissions by 2030 ... ›
- Humans Release 40 to 100x More CO2 Than Volcanoes, Major ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Teri Schultz
Europe is in a panic over the second wave of COVID-19, with infection rates sky-rocketing and GDP plummeting. Belgium has just announced it will no longer test asymptomatic people, even if they've been in contact with someone who has the disease, because the backlog in processing is overwhelming. Other European countries are also struggling to keep up testing and tracing.
Meanwhile in a small cabin in Helsinki airport, for his preferred payment of a morsel of cat food, rescue dog Kossi needs just a few seconds to tell whether someone has coronavirus.
<div id="bfda0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c60b1a0dedbedbe5e0ce44284aff852f"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1308390775328251906" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Covid-19 dogs started their work today at the Helsinki Airport at arrival hall 2B. Dogs have been trained to detect… https://t.co/nw4mrw6eJM</div> — Helsinki Airport (@Helsinki Airport)<a href="https://twitter.com/HelsinkiAirport/statuses/1308390775328251906">1600779644.0</a></blockquote></div><p>If it were left to Kossi and his pals, crowds of potential virus carriers could be cleared in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost with none of the physical discomfort that accompanies the current nasal swab test based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method.</p>
No Human Nose Needed<p>A dog can sniff a cloth wiped on a wrist or neck and immediately identify if it comes from someone who has contracted the virus as much as five days before any symptoms appear which would lead a person to go into isolation. "A dog could easily save so so, so many lives," University of Helsinki veterinary researcher Anna Hielm-Bjorkman told DW, who says their testing has shown an accuracy level of nearly 100%.</p><p>It was originally her idea to see whether Kossi, a talented disease-detection dog, could redirect his skills in sniffing out mold, bedbugs and cancer to detecting the new virus just as it started to spread in Europe. "It took him seven minutes to figure out 'okay, this is what you want me to look out for," Hielm-Bjorkman said. "So that totally blew our minds."</p><p>Susanna Paavilainen, the executive director of the Wise Nose scent-detection foundation and the woman who saved Kossi from euthanasia in a Spanish shelter eight years ago, immediately started retraining her dogs to find the coronavirus.</p><p>Miina, who used to track a young girl's blood sugar levels by scent, quickly came on board, along with two others already working in disease detection. In all, they hope to train 15 dogs in the first phase.</p><p>Hielm-Bjorkman said once they discovered the new capabilities, while the normal academic procedure would be to test, publish and get peer-reviewed, their first instinct was to get the dogs into service. "[Researchers] who are actually publishing," she noted wryly, "are not at the airports."</p>
Wags, Not Wages<p>But for that, they needed permission and ideally, some funding. Vantaa Deputy Mayor Timo Aronkyto, who is also responsible for airport security, saw the benefit straight away. "It took me two minutes," he told DW.</p><p>However, his funding options were limited to about $390,000 total for the four-month pilot project aiming to prove that results from the dog tests are at least as accurate as the PCR test. Anyone who tests positive at the voluntary canine site is requested to go to the medical unit for confirmation.</p><p>The interest of Aronkyto, a trained physician, is rooted in both health and wealth. "Our testing at the airport costs more than 1 million [euros] (USD $1.2 million) a month at the moment," he said, explaining he expects that to go up to €3 million (USD. $3.5 million) per month in winter. "These dogs would be much cheaper," he pointed out.</p><p>He's optimistic support will grow as data from the current pilot project accumulates, explaining there is already work underway to change Finnish legislation so eventually sniffer dogs would have the same "authority" as customs dogs.</p><p>Aronkyto anticipates one animal performing both functions in the near future. He plans to continue this level of funding from his city budget into next year but that doesn't train new dogs nor expand the capacity beyond the four that split shifts currently at the airport, even as infection rates rise.</p>
Helsinki Hesitates<p>Notably, however, the Finnish government has not signaled it would like to pick up the program itself, despite a huge surge in publicity and, as Hielm-Bjorkman and Paavilainen emphasize, interest from other countries. Travelers have been eager to participate, waiting in line more than an hour at times.</p><p>Finnish ambassador in Ramallah, Palestine, Paivi Peltokoski, praised the experience after a recent trip but, apparently, her enthusiasm is not overly contagious.</p>
<div id="d9823" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="61d382f115fe66a44eb793d9ebee3d94"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318564228450615299" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">I was tested negative by two #coronadogs upon arrival at the #Helsinki airport in #Finland. Later a medical test ve… https://t.co/cGlWQn8DJb</div> — Päivi Peltokoski (@Päivi Peltokoski)<a href="https://twitter.com/PaiviPeltokoski/statuses/1318564228450615299">1603205184.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"If the government would see this already as something that they would believe in," Hielm-Bjorkman said, she could envision training hundreds of dogs, stationing sniffers at concert halls or sports matches or elderly care homes. She adds there's a need for a "paradigm shift" for both medical professionals and the public.</p><p>Usually it's doctors telling patients if they're sick, she explained, and "here it's a dog handler."</p>
Little Political Will on German Project<p>This situation is not limited to Finland. In Germany researchers also <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-sniffer-dogs-show-promise-at-detecting-coronavirus/a-54300863" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced promising results</a> with canines <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-german-military-training-sniffer-dogs/a-54062180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">detecting COVID-19</a>, but no dogs have been used anywhere so far. And then, says Professor Holger Volk of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover, there has been insufficient political will or funding to move the project forward, something he called "very troubling" especially with a resurgent infection rate.</p><p>"When we started this whole project, we we did it because we wanted to help to stop the pandemic," Volk told DW. "It's really has been a very frustrating ride. I have had a lot of naysayers in the whole process. If I wasn't a very determined person, having done a lot of research, I would have probably stopped it."</p><p>He agrees with Hielm-Bjorkman's assessment that "it's just not in the perception of doctors that dogs are able to do this precise work." But he also echoes her faith in the vast potential of their discovery. "If you had a dog who could sniff every day quickly your cohort of workers, for example," he said, "think about the impact. You could continue having a workplace."</p><p>Speaking of workplaces, Susanna Paavilainen is starting to think if Finland doesn't want to unleash the dogs' potential at home, she and Kossi might accept one of the many requests from all over the world to provide training. "We can move because Kossi likes warm weather," she says, petting her star sniffer.</p>
An annual comprehensive report on air pollution showed that it was responsible for 6.67 million deaths worldwide, including the premature death of 500,000 babies, with the worst health outcomes occurring in the developing world, according to the State of Global Air, which was released Wednesday.
- U.S. Air Quality Decreased in Recent Years, Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
- Air Pollution Shortens Life Span by Three Years, Researchers Say ... ›
- Cleaner Air in Europe Has Resulted in 11,000 Fewer Deaths, New ... ›
- Half of U.S. Air Pollution Deaths Linked to Out-of-State Emissions ... ›
By Hannah Seo
If you've been considering throwing out that old couch, now might be a good time. Dust in buildings with older furniture is more likely to contain a suite of compounds that impact our health, according to new research.
- How Chemicals Like PFAS Can Increase Your Risk of Severe ... ›
- PFAS Chemicals Contaminate U.S. Food Supply, FDA Confirms ... ›
- This Strategy Protects Public Health From PFAS 'Forever Chemicals ... ›
Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, genetics, and a bunch of other things are known to be behind excessive weight gain. But, did you know that how much sleep you get each night can also determine how much weight you gain or lose?