The United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services killed over four million animals in 2013, according to documents released Monday and published in The Washington Post.
The animals, which ranged from hawks to prairie dogs to black bears, were trapped, shot, poisoned, and/or snared by federal game officials. While there are often valid reasons for wildlife removal—flocks of birds near airport runways, for example—critics hold that the USDA has failed to provide adequate transparency and evidence for the killings. Over the past 10 years, wildlife kills have fluctuated between 1.5 million (2001) and 5 million (2008).
In a statement, the USDA said that it works with government agencies, ranchers, and farmers to resolve human/wildlife conflicts in a “strategic” way, but provided no further documentation into each case. Reports show that animals can cause millions of dollars in agricultural damage each year, accounting for a large percentage of citizen complaints.
Coyotes and prairie dogs topped the 2013 casualty list, with 75,326 and 12,186 killed respectively. Other species of note included: 866 bobcats, 528 river otters, 3,700 foxes, 973 red-tailed hawks, 419 black bears and at least three eagles.
Last December, the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity questioned the USDA’s methods, and filed a petition stating that the agency must explain exact reasons for each kill, including methods and who will benefit.