Coyote killed in a government neck snare. (Photo by former Wildlife Services trapper)

Using steel traps, wire snares and poison,

Wildlife Services Department employees of the USDA have accidentally killed more than 50,000 animals since 2000 that were not problems, including federally protected golden and bald eagles; more than 1,100 dogs, including family pets; and several species including migratory shorebirds, beaver, porcupines, river otters and other native wildlife considered rare or imperiled by wildlife biologists.

Since 1987

at least 18 employees and several members of the public have been exposed to cyanide when they triggered spring-loaded cartridges laced with poison meant to kill coyotes.

This plane used by federal Wildlife Services for aerial attacks on wolves – with 58 paw-print decals indicating the number killed – stirred outrage when published on a conservation blog last year. To many, the decals showed callousness toward wildlife. An agency spokesperson apologized, saying the decals were removed when a manager realized they could offend some people. Aerial hunting is one of Wildlife Services’ most popular methods for killing coyotes and wolves. Critics want it curtailed or halted, saying it is expensive, dangerous and often used to kill animals that haven’t harmed livestock. (Photo: Wildlife News)

10 people have died and many others have been injured in crashes during agency aerial gunning operations since 1979.

Three coyotes caught in leg hold traps, at top and foreground, await death in this photo taken by a Wildlife Services trapper in Nevada. The coyote in the foreground is being attacked by the trapper’s dogs. Leg-hold traps are used by the agency to capture and kill 10,000 to 12,000 animals a year. Roughly half are coyotes, but more than two dozen other species are also targeted, including black bears, muskrats, mountain lions and wild pigs. Leg-hold traps have been banned in many countries.

Because lethal control stirs strong emotions

Wildlife Services prefers to operate in the shadows, turning down all requests from media to observe its hunters and trappers in action.

In March (2012) , two congressmen – Reps. John Campbell, R-Irvine, and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.–responding to photos posted online by a Wildlife Services employee (“TROPHY ANIMALS,” ANIMAL POST, Dec. 17, 201), introduced a bill that would ban one of Wildlife Services’ most controversial killing tools: spring-loaded sodium cyanide cartridges that have killed tens of thousands of animals in recent years, along with Compound 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate), a less-commonly used poison.

Records show

more than 150 species have been killed by mistake by Wildlife Services traps, snares and cyanide poison since 2000, including armadillos, badgers, great-horned owls, hog-nosed skunks, javelina, pronghorn antelope, porcupines, great blue herons, ruddy ducks, snapping turtles, turkey vultures, long-tailed weasels, marmots, mourning doves, red-tailed hawks, sandhill cranes and ringtails.

A coyote hunts rodents in the Sierra Valley north of Truckee. The animals generally pose little danger to cattle. (Photo: Tom Knudson/

Many of these species are off-limits to hunters and trappers. Some species, including swift foxes, kit foxes and river otter, are the focus of conservation and restoration efforts.

Wildlife Services.

Wildlife Services claims

that traps, snares and cyanide are key tools that nearly always get the right species. Environmentalists don’t trust the data, citing admissions by agency employees of pressure not to report non-targets “because it makes (the agency) look bad.”

Raccoons are most often killed by mistake, followed by river otters, porcupines, snapping turtles, javelina, striped skunks and muskrats. But there are other accidental victims that are often more keenly missed: dogs.

One was Maggie,


a tail-wagging, toy-fetching border collie-Irish setter mix beloved by Denise and Doug McCurtain and their four children. Last August, Maggie’s spine was crushed when she stepped into a vise-like “body-grip” trap set by Wildlife Services near the family’s suburban Oregon home to catch a nonnative rodent called a nutria. The family has filed a claim for damages. “Never once did anyone come to us and apologize,” a family member said. “It was like they pretended it didn’t happen.”

Eight dogs a month have been killed

on average by mistake by Wildlife Services since 2000, records show. Again, many people don’t believe the “records” are accurate.


This month, in Arizona, Wildlife Services employee Russell Files is accused of setting traps with the specific intent of capturing a neighbor’s dog he found troublesome. Local law enforcement officers were called to Files’ home in El Mirage, on the outskirts of Phoenix, in December by a frantic 911 call from a neighbor.

El Mirage Police Department detective Kim Walden found the dog, a 7-year-old female named Zoey, lying on its side in Files’ yard, with a front and back leg caught in two leg-hold traps, covered in blood from trying to chew her way out. As officials struggled to free the dog, Files showed up himself.

“He assisted us with getting the dog out of the traps,” Walden said. “He said he was tired of the neighbor’s dog coming into his yard. I asked him specifically if he was on duty when he set those traps, and he said: ‘Yes I was.’ ” Files was arrested Jan. 8 and charged with felony animal cruelty. The dog, which lost more than a dozen teeth in the ordeal, is recovering.

Bella, a Husky who got trapped by a government neck snare, was found by her owner near their campground. She had chewed off her own foot. Here, she waits to be transported for medical care. (Photo: Bob Norie)

Source: Tom Knudson, Sacramento Bee.