U.S. Wildlife Services' mission, methods probed

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LOS ANGELES -- The U.S. Agriculture Department's inspector general will investigate a federal agency whose mission is to exterminate birds, coyotes, mountain lions and other animals that threaten the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers.

The investigation of U.S. Wildlife Services is to determine, among other things, "whether wildlife damage management activities were justified and effective." Biologists have questioned the agency's effectiveness, arguing that indiscriminately killing more than 3 million birds and other wild animals every year is often counterproductive.

Reps. Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., and John Campbell, R-Calif., requested the review, calling for a complete audit of the culture within Wildlife Services. The agency has been accused of abuses, including animal cruelty and occasional accidental killing of endangered species, family pets and other animals that weren't targeted.

Mr. DeFazio, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, says the time has come to revisit the agency's mission and determine whether it makes economic and biological sense for taxpayers to underwrite a service, however necessary, that he argues should be paid for by private businesses.

Wildlife Services was created in 1931 as part of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. It has wide-ranging responsibilities, including rabies testing and bird control at airport runways. But the bulk of its work is exterminating nuisance wildlife by methods that include poisoning, gassing, trapping and aerial gunning.

The agency's services are free or substantially subsidized, which many private predator and pest control companies say unfairly undercuts their business. States and counties complain that they are responsible for an increasing share of the costs.

A Wildlife Services spokeswoman said the department does not condone animal cruelty and that employees are trained to strictly follow state and federal wildlife laws.


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