U.S. Wildlife Services Killed Over 1.75 Million Animals in 2021

A coyote howling
The USDA's Wildlife Services program killed nearly 64,000 coyotes in 2021. Project Coyote

Over the course of 2021, Wildlife Services, an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), killed over 1.75 million animals. The program noted it kills animals to protect agriculture, human health and vulnerable species, but conservationists are protesting the killings, which equate to about 200 deaths per hour throughout the year.

According to Wildlife Services’ 2021 toll, 6.61% of animals were killed, with a mix of both intentional and unintentional deaths. In 2021, nearly 3,000 deaths were unintentional, and can happen from traps or poisons set out to target other animals. The agency may also gas geese or shoot from aircraft at their targets.

According to the report, 1,028,642 European starlings, an invasive species, were killed, along with over 100,000 feral pigs (invasive), over 66,000 feral pigeons (invasive), and nearly 64,000 coyotes (non-invasive).

Other animals killed in 2021 include white-tailed deer, beavers, black-tailed prairie dogs, alligators, owls, snakes, and even one bald eagle, which was killed unintentionally. While the program kills invasive species, it also killed over 400,000 native species, including gray wolves, mountain lions, black bears, and bobcats, as reported by The Guardian.

“It’s stomach-turning to see this barbaric federal program wiping out hundreds of thousands of native animals,” Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Guardian. “Killing carnivores like wolves and coyotes to supposedly benefit the livestock industry just leads to more conflicts and more killing. This is a truly vicious cycle, and we’ll continue to demand change from Wildlife Services.”

The death toll for 2020 and 2021 were actually lower than previous years, with 2020 being the first year the toll was below 2 million since 2006. In 2008 and 2010, the total was 5 million animals each year.

Wildlife Services “provides wildlife damage management assistance to protect agriculture, natural resources, property and health and safety,” but critics say that killing native species can upset the natural balance of ecosystems and may also lead to higher spread of invasive species.

Another issue is the methods the program uses to kill animals. One particularly problematic method is M-44, which are small bombs that release sodium cyanide when animals trigger them. This method is usually intended for coyotes, foxes, and other native species, which the bomb can kill in about 5 minutes. But there have also been incidences of M-44 canisters killing endangered species or domesticated animals and even harming pet owners.

“M-44s, or ‘cyanide bombs,’ are one of the most horrifying methods the program uses for its indiscriminate killing,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity. “These inhumane traps spray sodium cyanide into the faces of unsuspecting wildlife lured by a sweet, scented bait. Any creature — or person — who pulls on the baited trigger can suffer tortuous poisoning followed by a slow, agonizing death or severe injury.”

Some states are restricting or banning the use of M-44s to kill wildlife, but they are still one of many methods being used widely by Wildlife Services to kill animals across the country.

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