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Idaho dog’s death latest proof of out-of-control wildlife management methods

Permission from Andrea Santarsiere. Originally printed Idaho Statesman, March 22 2017.

A government agency has brutally ended the life of a family dog and injured a teenager near his Pocatello home just weeks after a government-issue predator control device killed a wolf in northeastern Oregon.

The innocent pet, a 3-year-old lab named Casey, was killed Thursday by an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture known as Wildlife Services. This agency kills millions of animals across the country each year — 2.7 million in 2016 alone.

Casey — like OR48, a 2-year-old male wolf killed accidentally in Oregon in late February — was killed when a device known as an M-44 was triggered and exploded, releasing cyanide poisoning, killing Casey and knocking the teenager to the ground. He watched helplessly as his dog died before seeking treatment at a nearby emergency room.

The cyanide bomb — placed near the family’s home without their knowledge — was meant for predators such as coyotes, which are wrongfully treated as vermin. Tragically, as too often happens with Wildlife Service’s methods, the animals killed aren’t those being targeted. That’s why the agency needs to stop using M-44s, period.

Last year, Wildlife Services reported the “unintentional” death of 2,790 animals across the U.S. — and those are only the reported instances. Many of those animals are killed by equally indiscriminate methods such as painful leg-hold traps and strangulation snares.

In addition to killing nontarget animals, Wildlife Services reported killing more than 2.7 million animals in the U.S. last year, including nearly 1.6 million that were native wildlife species. In fact, the latest report shows that the program killed 415 gray wolves; 76,963 adult coyotes and an unknown number of coyote pups in 430 destroyed dens; 407 black bears; 334 mountain lions; 997 bobcats; 535 river otters, including 415 killed unintentionally; 3,791 foxes, with an unknown number of fox pups killed in 128 dens; and 21,184 beavers.

All of this is done using federal taxpayer dollars, generally to appease special interests such as the livestock industry.

As a senior attorney working on carnivore and endangered species protections for the Center for Biological Diversity, it is appalling that such dangerous practices — essentially placing poison capsules in backyards — are tolerated and promoted by the federal government.

Scientific research continues to prove that lethal predator control methods repeatedly backfire. When coyotes are killed, others in the population ramp up reproduction to make up for the losses. And with cougars and wolves, when dominant individuals are killed, new territory is opened for less-experienced animals not yet efficient at killing deer and elk that often turn to livestock for prey.

Wildlife Services is a dangerous, unregulated agency that acts with impunity to wipe out thousands of large predators. Taxpayers sign the checks for this endless, mindless killing that leaves ecosystems unbalanced and the Idaho landscape emptier. The state should end its contract with the agency immediately.

Andrea Santarsiere is a senior attorney in the Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species program. She is based in Victor.