A petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups calls on the Obama administration to reform Wildlife Services, a federal agency that kills about 1.5 million coyotes, bears, otters, foxes, birds and other animals each year without any requirement to disclose its activities to the public.
The environmental group and other nonprofits say the secretive killing, including aerial gunning, traps and exploding poison caps, has gone on for decades with little public oversight or rules requiring the use of the best available science or techniques to reduce the deaths of non-target animals.
The petition has been filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees Wildlife Services.
"Wildlife Services is an out-of-control, rogue agency that shoots, snares and poisons more than a million native animals every year, many unintentionally — including at least 13 endangered species," said Amy Atwood, the senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity who primarily drafted the petition. "Despite calls for reform by members of Congress, scientists and the public, Wildlife Services is still operating without the kind of legally binding regulations that ensure transparency and accountability to the taxpaying American public, creating a free-for-all that should have been ended decades ago."
The petition calls on the agency to:
• Develop regulations to ensure use of the best science when determining whether action should be taken against animals.
• Avoid killing non-target animals, including endangered species.
• Ensure ethical treatment of targeted animals and exhaustion of nonlethal means.
• Require release of reliable information to the public about the animals it kills.
Federal law requires the agency to respond, in some way, to the petition, according to CBD.
Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote, said, "We call on the USDA to clean house and bring Wildlife Services into the modern era of predator conservation and stewardship by adopting rules that justify their actions and that allow for public input and the integration of ethics, economics and science-based ecology."
A release from CBD said the agency, which has had various names, has "killed millions of animals since the early part of the 20th century, targeting native carnivores like coyotes and foxes, prairie dogs, birds and many other species at the behest of agribusiness interests. The agency contributed to the decline of gray wolves, Mexican wolves, black-footed ferrets, prairie dogs, and other species during the first half of the 1900s, and continues to impede their recovery today."
The past five years have been some of the most active for the agency, with more than 1.5 million native animals killed per year, according to CBD.
"Wildlife Services has contributed to the endangerment of several species, such as wolves and grizzly bears, that play pivotal roles in the food chain and have been the subject of extensive recovery efforts," said Atwood. "The agency is a major threat to North American wildlife and must be reined in and held accountable."
The petitioners — Center for Biological Diversity, Project Coyote and the Animal Welfare Institute. The Animal Legal Defense Fund — also state that "Wildlife Services employees routinely engage in unlawful or inhumane activities, refusing to fire or discipline agency employees who are known to break the law or cause animal suffering. The agency is also notoriously secretive, shielding most of its activities from scrutiny, and routinely covering up a substantial portion of its animal killings."
Earlier this week, with the first wave of public response to the petition, the inspector general for the Agriculture Department announced plans for an audit of Wildlife Services in 2014.