(NaturalNews) In 2013, the US Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services killed more than 4 million animals, an ironic twist of fate for an agency that is supposedly charged with preserving and protecting the country's wildlife.
The Washington Post reports, the massive toll of wild animals exterminated by the government -- as a service to everything from ranches to airports -- has gone up and down, but last year, the figures were up again:
The more than 4 million animals shot, poisoned, snared or trapped by the Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services in fiscal year 2013 included 75,326 coyotes, 866 bobcats, 528 river otters, 3,700 foxes, 12,186 prairie dogs, 973 red-tailed hawks, 419 black bears and at least three eagles, golden and bald.
For the record, it is against federal law to kill a Bald or Golden Eagle without first obtaining a permit to do so (accompanied by a good reason) from the Interior Secretary.
Kill totals up and down but no one says why
The Post said that, despite the fact that the USDA maintains a list of animals killed, there is virtually no data showing why each animal was exterminated, the methods used in the killings or the reasons why they were necessary. Also, there isn't much data indicating reasons behind mistakes that have led to massive kills of animals that weren't targeted.
At least two members of Congress have described the Wildlife Services as secretive and opaque for failing to provide more information. Further, there are mounting calls for an investigation into how the service operates.
Officials with the USDA's Wildlife Services said the agency responds to requests by other government entities nationwide while working to "resolve human/wildlife conflicts" in a strategic way. "As wildlife damage increases, requests for assistance also increase," spokeswoman Carol Bannerman told the Post. She said that ranchers and farmers pay half the costs of the agency's expenses to kill animals that they view as a threat.
However, she provided no explanation about why the kill total is as low as 1.5 million in one year but as high as 5 million the next.
Around the turn of the 21st century, the agency said it killed about 4 million animals, but two years later, in 2001, the figure fell to 1.5 million and remained relatively low for about six years. But in 2008, the number rose dramatically, to 5 million, before heading down to 3 million over the next four years, the Post reported.
But as evidenced by current figures, the death toll is up again, and critics are looking for a better explanation as to why.
According to the Post:
Wildlife Services' primary purpose is to eradicate invasive creatures introduced from other parts of the world. They include greedy feral hogs, giant swamp rats called nutria, big aggressive Argentine lizards called tegus and swarms of hungry starlings that destroy the habitats of animals native to the United States.
But the agency also kills native animals en masse, sometimes based solely on a homeowner's or farmer's perception of a threat.
Birds that inhabit airports and eat cattle feed at farms do contribute to the high totals. Non-invasive European starlings, sparrows, pigeons and the like account for about 87 percent of animals killed. Birds of all kinds are singled out as nuisances, and flocks of them can be particularly hazardous to air travel.
But as the Post noted, the current rise in the number of animals being exterminated came despite growing protest and scrutiny.
Last December, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition with the government, demanding that the agency provide a better explanation as to why it makes each kill of an animal, who benefited from the killing and the methods used. In the petition, the Center called the Wildlife Services "a rogue agency" that was "out of control."