Congress should join the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector general in investigating the federal government’s predator control program.
The Wildlife Services agency has had far more than its share of controversy since the federal program was created nearly a century ago to oversee the trapping, shooting and poisoning of coyotes and other predators for the nation’s farmers and ranchers.
More than three decades ago, a scathing report, commissioned by Rogers Morton, secretary of the interior in the Nixon administration, criticized the program’s “built-in resistance to change” and called for “substantial, even drastic, changes in control personnel and control methods, supported by new legislation, administrative changes and methods of financing.”
Not much has changed since then at the agency, whose predator-control practices have been justly criticized by not only wildlife advocates and biologists but by members of Congress as indiscriminate, unscientific, inhumane and often illegal. Despite long-standing complaints about wasteful spending and harm to wildlife and ecosystems, the agency has received little scrutiny. For decades, it has been defiantly secretive about its practices and spending.
The agency is a small cog in the government’s massive Department of Agriculture, whose inspector general agreed to the comprehensive audit requested by Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and John Campbell, R-Calif. The congressmen want the inspector general to probe deeply into the culture of the agency, which has been accused of abuses including animal cruelty, as well as the accidental killings of non-target animals ranging from endangered species to pet dogs killed needlessly because of the agency’s outrageously nonselective control methods.
An inspector general’s review is a good start, but more is necessary. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee should grant DeFazio’s and Campbell’s long-standing calls for review and take an unflinching look not only at allegations of animal abuse, but also the agency’s overall operations and spending, and its blunderbuss predator control methods.
Lawmakers should also consider DeFazio’s contention that federal predator control should be paid for by private business rather than federal taxpayers. That’s probably true, as it applies to pest management services the agency provides for agribusiness and ranchers, as well as golf clubs and resorts, hunting clubs, homeowners’ associations, paving companies and major timber companies. As for the services it provides to other federal agencies and counties, and its role in the protection of endangered species and maintenance of game herds for hunters, they might better be handled by moving Wildlife Services to the Department of the Interior, which has a mission to manage healthy ecosystems.
The agency’s obstinate refusal to respond to outside calls for transparency and reform indicate that meaningful change will require congressional action, as well as review by the Department of Agriculture’s inspector general.