At a time when Congress is in gridlock over federal spending, there should be heightened scrutiny of unnecessary and wasteful programs. A prime example is the USDA’s Wildlife Services lethal predator control program―one of the most destructive and indefensible government programs that causes untold suffering to animals, while costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
In the wake of animal cruelty investigations, family pets killed and injured by government traps and poisons, investigative news reports by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Tom Knudson of the Sacramento Bee and by Cristina Corbin of Fox News exposing the agency’s culture of cruelty, and editorials in papers such as The New York Times, the Sacramento Bee, and the Eugene Register-Guard, there is growing opposition to this federally funded wildlife-killing program to benefit private ranchers, trophy hunters, and other special interests.
The USDA’s Office of Inspector General had previously announced plans to conduct an independent audit of the Wildlife Services program. It’s a long time coming, and would provide an opportunity to examine the agency’s lack of transparency and public accountability, and its ineffective spending of more resources on lethal predator control operations than livestock producers actually lose to predators.
The OIG audits have historically proven very valuable in identifying problems such as USDA’s long history of lax oversight of commercial dog breeders under the Animal Welfare Act and the industry self-regulation of show horses under the Horse Protection Act. These reports led to important policy reforms and new regulations to crack down on puppy mills and horse soring; the same opportunity is now needed to examine and reform Wildlife Services.
Unfortunately, due to budgetary constraints, USDA has to decide which OIG audits can take place, and the intended review of Wildlife Services may now be on the chopping block. U.S. Reps. Gary Peters, D-Mich., John Campbell, R-Calif., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., wrote to the Inspector General last week, urging that the Wildlife Services program “be a top priority for an audit and that the OIG should undertake an audit of WS as soon as practically possible.”
As the lawmakers wrote, “Wildlife Services’ lethal predator control activities, including its use of poisons and aerial gunning, are primary concerns. Wildlife Services’ predator control program primarily benefits a small proportion of the nation’s private agriculture and big-game management interests while depending on costly and indiscriminate lethal control activities. We question the benefit of these activities to U.S. taxpayers. Our concerns are not limited to predator control issues. Wildlife Services is not adequately accountable and transparent, failing to provide complete information to the public about their activities and use of taxpayer dollars.”
There is a legitimate case to be made for a federal agency that helps to solve wildlife conflicts, providing training and research on best practices with an emphasis on innovation and non-lethal solutions. But Wildlife Services in its current form is a relic of the past, exterminating wildlife as a government subsidy for private ranchers and other special interests, using inhumane and ineffective methods, while the U.S. taxpayers foot a large share of the bill.
An OIG audit is a critical step toward identifying solutions and needed reforms, and skipping it due to budget constraints would be penny-wise and pound-foolish. A small investment now can lead to long-term savings for taxpayers, can make government run better, and can find a new way forward for wildlife management.