Washington, DC — Due to a rash of accidents, mishaps and security breaches, the federal agency which conducts mass wildlife extermination will undertake a nationwide safety review, according an agency circular released today by Sinapu and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The groups are calling on the agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture called Wildlife Services, to open this safety examination to public scrutiny.
The scope and severity of the security, safety and bio-hazard issues confronting Wildlife Services (WS) is staggering. In a November 5, 2007 “stakeholders” memo, WS Deputy Administrator William Clay writes that:
“In the wake of several accidents in WS’ programs, WS is conducting a nationwide safety review focusing on aviation and aerial operations, explosives and pyrotechnics, firearms, hazardous chemicals, immobilization and euthanasia, pesticides, vehicles, watercraft, and wildlife disease activities. The review will be conducted by subject matter experts from WS, federal and state government, and private industry. We expect the review to be completed in the next year.”
“Wildlife Services has identified so many safety problems, it is a wonder that it can focus on any one of them,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The extraordinary thing is that all of these risks are self-imposed as a direct function of agency mishandling, misapplication and mission creep.”
The groups have been calling for action against three of the greatest dangers from WS operations –
- Aerial Crashes. Recent crashes in “aerial gunning” accidents – principally pursuit of coyotes via aircraft – have brought the death toll to 10 with more than 30 injuries. This summer, South Dakota grounded its personnel from aerial hunts after its fourth accident in less than ten years;
- Stores of Dangerous Biological Agents. Two recent USDA Office of Inspector General audits faulted Wildlife services for inaccurate inventories, lack of controls against theft and unauthorized sales and violations of bioterrorism regulations; and
- Highly Lethal Pesticides. Wildlife Services traps and techniques have been linked to inadvertent deaths of large numbers of wild and domestic animals as well as other environmental harms.
“Following every accident, Wildlife Services promises a review but then goes out and commits the same mistakes over and over,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu. “There needs to be an outside review because safety is certainly not the strong suit at Wildlife Services.”
The groups have petitioned USDA to end aerial gunning and have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to suspend registration for two of the most abused wildlife poisons employed by Wildlife Services. They are also calling upon Congress to redirect the more than $100 million annual WS budget which accounted for more than 1.6 million animals killed in 2006.