Sinapu to the USDA & Congress: No More Aerial Gunning!

End this Senseless Program, No More Deaths, Please

On June 1, 2007, two federal employees died when their plane crashed during aerial gunning operations in Wayne County, Utah. A television news story stated that the pilot and gunner were professionals that flew “almost daily” on aerial hunts, and that the flight community was shocked by their deaths. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Wildlife Services’ employees, friends, and families of the two men are reeling from the tragic loss of pilot Joseph Harris and gunner Glen Stevenson. Sinapu extends its condolences to the families.

Crashed airplane.  Hopefully the coyote got away.USDA-Wildlife Services calls these deaths heroism in the line of duty. Instead, these deaths represent are the unnecessary result of an antiquated and failed federal program by the USDA to kill native carnivores on behalf of a few dozen Western livestock producers. Why does the federal government promote the act of shooting coyotes and other animals by federal employees and contractors from low-flying planes and helicopters given the accident rate in this business?

Since 1989, the USDA-Wildlife Services has crashed at least 25 helicopters or planes while aerial gunning, resulting in at least 10 fatalities and 26 injuries. Read Sinapu’s report.

• In March 2000, Quinton Van Cleve and Steve Pfeil died in Del Rio, Texas while aerial gunning. No witnesses saw the accident, but the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the helicopter experienced a “in-flight collision with terrain.”

• In March 1998, Lawana Clark died while training as an aerial gunning pilot in Lebec, California (photo above). Her plane’s wing struck the ground during a turn. According to government records, her shoulder harness had been altered—likely contributing to her fatality. (Her trainer, Andy Williams, was seriously injured when he was involved in a second accident in 2000 in Rio Vista, California when his plane struck a powerline and plunged 120 feet. In a third incident, in 1997, Williams was named in a crime report for allegedly shooting bullets from a USDA aircraft near a couple in Sierra County, California.)

• In 1998, aerial gunner Shane Cornwall died in Spanish Fork, Utah when his helicopter struck a tree after apparent engine failure.

• In 1996, Jeff Yates and Darwin Mabbutt’s plane in Holden, Utah crashed because the vehicle was 75 pounds overweight.

• In 1979, Robert Evans and Gary Lambert plane crashed in Artesia, New Mexico while hunting predators.

Obviously, flying close to the ground while chasing coyotes, foxes, or bobcats can lead to trouble, including collisions with powerlines, trees, or land formations. Many aerial gunning accidents occur because of unexpected wind shears. Flying low to the ground leaves little maneuvering room. In South Dakota, state agent Kevin Hoult caused his plane to crash after he fired a shot that lodged in the plane’s controls.

When people are dying while killing wildlife, then predator control has gotten out of hand. If the USDA-Wildlife Services won’t stop this foolishness, then Congress should. Far better methods to prevent livestock depredation (including non-lethal ones such as fencing, guard animals, and strobe lights) are far safer and more cost effective. Learn more about aerial gunning and the costs involved.


11 responses to “Sinapu to the USDA & Congress: No More Aerial Gunning!

  1. There are those who do not like any form of predator control, regardless of whom it affects. Shame on those who believe that ranchers should not be able to protect there financial interests ( their livestock) by such means. If they do not control predators then studies have proven that the rancher looses out financially and may nearly drive them out of business.

    I am not for the aerial gunning of predators. However, If this were to stop and then let ranchers control predators there would be a lot less waste of tax payers money and predator control would be more efficient. Most ranchers would only control those predators that preyed upon their livestock while on private land as they do not have the resources to send hired men out every single day onto public land to control problem wolves and coyotes.

    In response to Roberts comments, I have to ask whose selfish attitudes? The ranchers and hunters or the wolf conservationists who want total control so no predator is lost while the rancher loses all. In this regard, I can point to the wolf advocates who want total control without caring about ones livelihood.

    Another misconception Rober points out is that predator control is too expensive for the rancher or livestock owner. This is not true. In fact it is much less expensive and less costly than government control methods if the rancher was given mostly control without strict fines and penalties.

    Nonpredator control truly reflects a hatred of the rancher, livestock industry, and hunting, and financial cost be damned.

  2. Robert, do you believe in any type of population control? Humans, prey species, insects, rodents?

  3. Robert Hoskins

    All forms of predator control, including aerial gunning, constitute a naked war of aggression not only against wildlife and land, but against the very idea of wildness. It is impossible to feel any sympathy for the deaths of these and other individuals who are engaged in that war for profit and fun. They knew what they were doing; they were taking the risk, and this time they lost. Unfortunately, there will be other mercenaries to take their places.

    Having studied predator control for over a decade and a half, including three winters in northern Canada studying wolf control, I know of no predator control program in the world that provides any true public benefit. Even if you adopt the selfish attitudes of those who demand predator control, ranchers and hunters, it is clear that any positive benefit from predator control is at best short-term; what you find out is that once you start it, you have to continue it at great expense, and you very quickly create a situation of diminishing returns with rising costs. This is one reason, by the way, why ranchers and hunters have foisted predator control off on the general taxpayer–it’s too expensive for them to pay for, and who cares if it doesn’t work? Predator control truly reflects a hatred of wild animals, and cost be damned.

    Predator control constitutes a radical disruption of relatively stable ecological relationships and therefore creates more problems through a kind of “blowback” upon the perpetrators than it solves. The extreme reproductive and predatory responses of coyote populations to predator control is just one of many ecological examples of how Mother Nature strikes back against those who would play God. Typically, few learn from these examples and keep making the same mistakes.

    Over the last six or seven thousand years, civilizations world wide have risen and fallen due to the arrogance and stupidity of agri-culture’s war against the natural world to turn the earth into a human garden. This civilization is no different.

  4. Marion-

    These guys in Utah were not working on one or two problem coyotes. There were flying “almost every day” which means they were probably shooting every coyote they could find — any maybe a few road signs too. (ammo is a terrible thing to waste)

    Do you honestly believe that sending a plane up EVERY DAY to shoot coyotes actually benefits the sheep rancher in the long run, much less the taxpayer?


  5. My point is shooting from a chopper is jsut as dangerous whether it is to tranquilize a wolf or control a coyote.
    As for controlling coyotes, as I remember killing off 50% of the coyote population was one of the big selling points touted by thsoe who wanted wolves introduced into Yellowsotne, and 11 years later they are still claiming that 50% drop in coyote population.
    I cannot actually speak to the value of ariel hunting of coyotes, since it wasn’t done when I was a kid growing up on a sheep ranch. I can testify, however, to the relief afforded to a sheep rancher from killing off the coyotes preying on his flock.

  6. Wendy Keefover-Ring

    Marion, you’re missing the point. These men were not tranquilizing wolves, they were shooting coyotes in the sage in Utah. As we’ve discussed on this site and others (i.e., killing coyotes doesn’t get you less coyotes and it doesn’t help the bottom line of ranchers. For the federal government to be involved in this mess doesn’t make a bit of sense either. It needs to update and come into the 21st Century — for the sake of their employees’ lives, for the conservation of public’s wildlife, and for the benefit of taxpayers, who shouldn’t have to pay for this.

  7. C’mon, it is safer to be in stormy weather hanging on to try to rescue some nature idiot that has fallen off a ledge out playing?
    I suspect the idea of the wolf living or the cow living depends if it is your thousand dollars going down the tube and turning into wolf poop. That was a part of the rules for introducing wolves, they had to be controlled if they preyed on livestock. And have they ever! We didn’t want them imported to our state, but they were anyway, and we have to deal with the fallout the best as we can. Millions were spent to bring them in to harass ranchers and millions more are being spent to control them.
    The wolves had to be darted, tranquilized and brought into Wyoming and Idaho, they were not here, in fact probably killed the ones that were here. They are out there darting and capturing from choppers all of the time. The 4 that were planted on a Meeteetse ranch a couple of years ago were darted and picked up one by one, then taken to the ranch and turned loose with bright shiny new collars. It is all dangerous.
    By the way it is Fish and Wildlife Services that control the wolves, not Forest Service.

  8. Thanks for the public service announcement, Marion. You bring up a good point. We should also stop the aerial gunning of wolves by the Forest Service and the Nez Perce. Obviously, any use of aircraft for legitimate reasons, such as actual science, medical intervention, or rescues, should be permitted. These activities are much less dangerous than flying around shooting out the windows of aitrplanes with high powered rifles.

  9. This most recent tragedy is another instance that should prod the American public into demanding the de-funding of this gruesome agency. Is the chance that a wolf might prey on a cow really worth the risk? Does our federal government loath wildlife so much that it is willing to spend as much money and as many human lives as it takes to exterminate beautiful creatures who deserve a home and freedom to roam? Do we as a culture loathe wildlife so much that we will stand by and accept this abuse of our tax dollars? It is time to step out of the dark ages and exhibit some tolerance for natural ecosystems and the carnivores that are inextricable from the health of our planet.

  10. Nancy Zierenberg

    Those deaths represent the waste associated with over a century of never-ending killing that has only accomplished the spread of the very predator our government seems to hate, the poor little old mostly rodent-eating coyote. Those WS, or Animal Damage Control (their previous name), wildlife killers need to quit getting their rocks off by eliminating our wildlife and focus on the real problem…..quit having babies!

    Your tax dollars pay for this endless killing program.”

  11. You do realize that most of the wolves killed by FWS and the Nez Perce are killed from planes don’t you? Plus most of the darting for collaring, medical treatment, etc are also done by darting from choppers. And of course there are rescue helicopters for those who manage to get themselves lost or injured.
    They are very efficient, but also very dangerous.