« Return to this article

Know the West

Lethal tools


Ben Goldfarb shines an even-handed light on Wildlife Services, a federal agency operating in the shadows whose purpose is “controlling” targeted wildlife species, by any means (“The Forever War,” HCN, 1/25/16). The 2014 statistics Goldfarb cited show just how effectively and quietly the agency goes about the job of killing. Its objectives reflect and remain rooted in an anachronistic 19th century mindset. As documented in M. J. Robinson’s Predatory Bureaucracy, whenever the agency’s continuance and purposes have been seriously challenged, it has simply reduced its public exposure, changed its name, tweaked its mission to give the appearance of newfound legitimacy, and continued doing what it has always done: killing wildlife. The ecological collateral damage it has wrought includes the near extinction of the black-footed ferret, when, in the past, the agency single-mindedly sought to eliminate all rodents, particularly prairie dogs, from Western grazing lands.

The agency may be talking up much-needed “nonlethal techniques” as a distraction, but as Goldfarb reports, bottom line, “it does not influence (ongoing) field operations,” the agency’s real business. The hegemony of Western stock-grower associations, congressional representatives, state politicians, ranchers and Wildlife Services’ biologists and officials may cynically talk up nonlethal methods publicly, but, wink, wink, continue as they damn well please behind the scenes. While bounties per se may have been discontinued, the way that both Western states’ federal grazing programs and Wildlife Services are funded incentivizes the killing of predators. M-44s, poisons, leg-hold traps, snares, and aerial gunning remain the principal tools of those so-called “services.” 

Earle F. Layser
Alta, Wyoming