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.
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.