Killing and Hunting

14th September 2011

The shorter days of summer give way gradually to autumn and the massive slaughter of “wildlife”. The U.S. is fighting a war, not only in distant places but also at home; it is a war against free living animals. Not only do we have “Wildlife Services”, a part of the U.S.D.A. (U.S. Department of Agriculture), a federal agency that kills animals to supposedly “help” U.S. farmers, but we also have state agencies that encourage hunting.

“Wildlife Services” supposedly protects aquaculture, agriculture, and resources, such as buildings, vehicles, homes, golf courses, as well as humans from “wildlife attacks” and “wildlife diseases”, even aircraft safety. All of this “protection” is protection from “wildlife”. For example, fish farms are protected from fish-eating birds, such as cormorants, blue herons, and pelicans and also from muskrats that damage the infrastructure of aquaculture facilities. Crops, such as rice, corn, winter wheat, fruits and nuts are protected from black birds, gulls, geese and other birds as well from deer, beaver, feral swine, coyotes, badgers, raccoons and various small mammals. Sheep and cattle, particularly lambs and calves are protected from predators such as coyotes, mountain lions, bears, wolves, foxes, bobcats and eagles.

While “Wildlife Services” claim they recommend various non-lethal means of protecting farmers and others from multimillion dollars losses from “wildlife”, they kill many species in huge numbers by various means. “Wildlife Services” quote the G.A.O. (General Accounting Office) report stating that “lethal management methods are a legitimate means for effectively resolving wildlife conflicts”. The means used by the agency include shooting and aerial gunning, and the encouragement of hunting including hunting with dogs as a means of reducing populations. They also use traps, snares, fumigants, such as carbon monoxide, to kill young animals in dens (denning), and various poisons, as well as special killing devices such as the M-44 ejector which shoots sodium cyanide into the mouth of any animal who tries to eat the attached bait.  Also used is the slow acting, but deadly, Compound 1080 (sodium monofluroacetate). For example, a coyote ingesting this substance may not show any immediate symptoms, but will take hours to die.

Many of the killing efforts of “Wildlife Services” are directed against coyotes perhaps because, unlike wolves, they are not almost extinct, but have thrived. Coyotes are predators, but also scavengers, so it is not at all clear that they are responsible for the many newborn calf and lamb deaths they are accused of. Nevertheless, according to statistics gathered by the Animal Protection Institute and published by Born Free and the Animal Protection Institute, nearly six million of these doglike creatures were killed by the U.S. Federal Government from 1916-1999, and almost two million since 1976. Between 1937 and 1983, 26,000 bears, 500,000 bobcats, 50,000 red wolves, 1,600 grey wolves, and 8,000 mountain lions were killed.

In 2003, in a single year, 75,724 coyotes were killed. State and local governments as well as private individuals and hunting clubs are responsible for killing hundreds of thousands more. All in all, between 1996 and 2004, more than 14 million animals were destroyed by the U.S. Government. Some researchers believe that these numbers are low since many states do not keep accurate figures of the animals killed.

While coyotes seem to be a major target of “Wildlife Services”, deer are the favourite target of U.S. recreational or sport hunters. Hunting is said to be a “sport”, but a sport suggests an encounter between two equally or closely matched partners, which is obviously not the case with deer hunting. Hunters, and indeed “Wildlife Services”, assert that hunting provides a valuable and necessary service in reducing populations of certain animals. We are told, for example, that it is necessary to kill deer because there are too many, but if that were true, why do the states encourage the propagation of deer by “habitat improvement”?

It is falsely but repeatedly claimed that the deer “overpopulate”. Aside from being a nuisance, it is claimed that such overpopulation constitutes a danger to human life and health because deer (i) spread Lyme disease, (ii) cause vehicle accidents, (iii) destroy the forests, (iv) threaten the survival of ground-nesting birds and other mammals (that are invariably unnamed), and (v) eat peoples’ carefully planted flowers.

Facts reveal problems with almost all of these claims: even if there were no deer, Lyme disease would not disappear since mammals, birds and even reptiles can carry infected ticks that cause Lyme disease. Similarly, the majority of car accidents occur during hunting season because the deer run from hunters. Insurance companies corroborate these statistics. Deer are said to threaten the very existence of our forests. No one stops to think that if deer destroyed their own habitat, they would soon starve to death.

One wonders how deer have managed to exist for millions of years without the help of humans. State agencies talk about “harvesting” deer, not about slaughtering or killing them. They would have us believe that “thinning the herd” is for the good of the deer. These agencies talk about the ever “bourgeoning deer herds”. Agencies don’t bother to inform the public that deer populations depend on food supply. Without an infinite amount of food and space, deer numbers cannot infinitely increase.

Nor do agencies tell us that even in the absence of predators, deer herds tend to be self-regulating. Indeed, they tell us that since we have killed all the predators, we must take their place ignoring the fact that predators kill the very young, the sick and the old while hunters seek the healthiest and largest animals with the biggest racks (antlers).

Agencies don’t bother to explain that the so-often quoted “carrying capacity” is not an unchanging number that can be repeated year after year as if it did not vary, inter alia, with the weather, the kinds of vegetation, disease, and other animals competing for the same food.

Valley Forge National Historical Park is an excellent example of this war on “wildlife”. Claiming that the deer in the 3,000 plus acre Park are increasing despite the Park’s own numbers to the contrary, it was asserted that the deer are destroying the forests and that their numbers must be reduced over a four year period to less than 200 from an estimated total of 1,277. An organisation offered to fund the contraception of all the deer and to fence the forest areas. The park rejected this offer as “inadequate”.

Local papers announced that by the spring of 2011, sharp shooters had killed 600 deer. Some reports claimed 700 had been destroyed. Whatever the number, Park officials voiced satisfaction and asserted that shooting was the “most humane way to control the population”. Before spring fawning, there were said to be 574 deer remaining. No report that I saw questioned whether the remaining deer would continue to destroy the forest.

The Park was originally established to commemorate Washington’s encampment in the winter of 1777-1778 during the revolutionary war. From its hills, Washington could observe the British troops occupying Philadelphia. Originally farmland, any trees in the area were used to build the soldiers’ huts or to heat them. Now the forest obscures the reason why Washington chose that location, but since the park has recently become “multi-purpose” rather than primarily historical, the deer must supposedly be killed to preserve the forest that had not previously existed for several hundred years.

Once again, science has been ignored and habituated deer have been demonized and shot in great numbers on the basis of flawed or misrepresented information.

On sources: with the exception of the numbers killed, all the information concerning “Wildlife Services” comes from their website

And information on the numbers killed comes from “Coyotes in Our Midst: Coexisting with an Adaptable and Resilient Carnivore”, copyright 2005, by the Animal Protection Institute and published by Born Free and the Animal Protection Institute, available at

Priscilla N. Cohn