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GUEST OPINION: Wildlife Services outdated
By Earle Layser
For all who value wildlife: Thank you reporter Jake Nichols for “Coyote Ugly.” He nailed it. Wildlife Services (WS), a rogue agency, operates in secrecy, with little or no transparency, at the bidding of the agricultural and grazing industry. If this characterization sounds extreme, it isn’t. This is an agency with a dark side. Behind the scenes WS determines much of the fate of wildlife on our public lands. In the 21st century, the WS operates with a anachronistic 19th century frontier-era mindset. Its activities are not confined to private lands, but include all our public lands which are under grazing leases. In the West, that’s most public lands. This is an agency, which in the Western states, exists by virtue of outmoded ideology. It has little to do with modern wildlife management and all to do with control and removal of wildlife and maintaining the agency’s budget.
The appalling history of the agency includes among other things, an early 20th century vendetta against, no kidding, rodents – prairie dogs, ground squirrels, pocket gophers, jack rabbits, woodchucks, field mice. The agency led farmers and stockmen in an all-out organized poisoning effort on 12-million acres of federal land and 105-million acres of state and private lands. It doesn’t take an ecological genius to figure out that with the prey base decimated, predators – coyotes, cougars, wolves, bears, eagles – are going to turn to what is plentiful and available to eat: livestock.
Next, gotta remove them livestock eatin’ predators. Killing prairie dogs was so successful it resulted in the near extinction of an associated species, the black-footed ferret. As Franz Camenzind pointed out, stockmen are sometimes negatively affected by market forces, and while it might relieve the frustrations of being marginalized in today’s world, they cannot kill their way to profitability. But we can thank the WS, in part, for the attitudes of stockmen and ranchers, instilled through generations of federal WS program propaganda and feeding at public-trough programs. Western congressional representatives bemoan spending, but unquestionably and knuckleheadedly allocate $160-million for the WS’s “war on wildlife.” Meanwhile, schools’ and national parks’ funding, for example, is cut. Something it seems is out of kilter with our value system in the Western states.
Young people, such as Jamie Olson, are attracted to government hunter jobs, but instead of finding romance in the outdoors, they revel in killing wildlife.
Many Jackson Holers feel a kinship to the animals and define their humanity in nature. I think its safe to say, they, like me, find the activities of the WS out-dated, repulsive, and in much need of oversight and reform.
(This letter was edited for space.)