Green Groups Urge Congress to End Controversial Program
303.447.8655, Extension 1, #
For Immediate Release: January 19, 2005
Boulder, Colorado. Last Friday, a national coalition of green groups sent a letter to the Colorado Congressional delegation urging them to halt the USDA-Wildlife Services’ controversial aerial wildlife-hunting program. In December, Wildlife Services (WS) crashed two planes, one while shooting at a pack of coyotes.
Aerial gunning is inherently unsafe as pilots are often distracted, and because they fly at low altitudes, there is leave little room for error. Pilots have flown into trees, land formations, and even power lines.
Since 1989, Wildlife Services has crashed at least 22 helicopters or planes while aerial gunning, resulting in at least 7 fatalities and 25 injuries. The USDA’s aerial gunning accidents have occurred in California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Montana, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming—although the program operates in all Western states.
Since 1999, a coalition of green groups, called AGRO, has been working to stop aerial gunning. Each year, the program costs millions of dollars, indiscriminately kills tens of thousands of native animals, and fails to fix ranchers’ problems for the long term.
“Aerial gunning wildlife can be a deadly business,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring, AGRO’s coordinator. “It’s also expensive, funded by the public, inhumane, and biologically unsound,” she added.
Wildlife Services’ December 20 crash occurred in Terreton, Idaho while the two employees were shooting coyotes from an airplane. The work was being conducted on behalf of the Idaho Woolgrowers Association when the accident occurred. According to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) records, the airplane was flying between 50 to 100 feet from the ground. The gunner shot one coyote and when the plane circled to get at the three remaining pack members, the plane crashed. NTSB reports that the gunner sustained “serious” injuries and the pilot received minor injuries.
NTSB records also show that a USDA plane crashed on December 1 in Jal, New Mexico. It is unclear if the pilot was en route to an aerial gunning operation.
“Despite recent expenditures of millions of tax dollars aimed at improving the federal government’s aerial gunning program, another crash has occurred,” said Keefover-Ring.
WS halted its aerial gunning program in 1998 after its fourth crash that year. In the fourth 1998 incident, a WS employee/pilot died while the gunner sustained serious injuries. Two years later, that same gunner was involved in a second aerial gunning accident when his plane hit a powerline. In this incident, he again sustained serious injuries.
(Earlier news reports of the accident mistakenly stated that the two employees worked for the USDI’s Fish and Wildlife Service. Wildlife Services is a program administered by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.)
Each year Wildlife Services spends $10 million in federal tax dollars (and several millions from other revenue streams—including county and state taxes) to kill native carnivores for their livestock protection program.
“WS is very secretive about their costs and their clients,” said Mr. Lynn Fritchman, Idaho resident and AGRO coalition member.
“Contract costs for the aircraft, pilot, gunner, and ground support personnel are added to the costs of replacement/repair of aircraft,” he added.
“Additionally, we have been unable to obtain, despite the help of Colorado Congressman Mark Udall, the full accounting for medical expenses and compensation payments made to those debilitated or killed because of this practice. It could be several hundred dollars for each wild animal killed,” argued Keefover-Ring.
In FY03, Wildlife Services shot over 32,000 animals from aircraft: 28,255 coyotes, 290 bobcats, 127 red foxes, and 34 wolves.
FOR MORE VISIT: http://www.goAGRO.org
# # #