USDA Wildlife Services?

Last week a reader wrote, “Scott, I recently read a report that said the federal government killed 624,845 red-winged blackbirds, 357 gray wolves, and 69,041 adult coyotes last year.” That can’t be true, can it?”

Sadly, it is.

According to its website (, the USDA’s APHIS Wildlife Services mission is, “to provide Federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist? Program biologists apply the integrated wildlife damage management approach to provide technical assistance and direct management operations in response to requests for assistance. WS research scientists are dedicated to the development of wildlife damage management methods … The Program’s efforts help people resolve wildlife damage to a wide variety of resources and to reduce threats to human health and safety.

APHIS is a multi-faceted agency with a broad mission area that includes protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health, regulating genetically engineered organisms, administering the Animal Welfare Act and carrying out wildlife damage management activities. Its mission is, “To protect the health and value of American agriculture and natural resources. These efforts support the overall mission of USDA, which is to protect and promote food, agriculture, natural resources and related issues.

Most state and federal wildlife agencies exist to help wildlife populations prosper, but who deals with problem wildlife? For example, if beaver dams flood a low lying road, if Canada geese feces make a high school ball field unplayable, or if mountain lions kill ranchers’ lambs and calves, who you gonna call?

When such problems persist and seriously impact human activities, eventually the public finds its way to Wildlife Services. It’s a little-known office within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that deals with such problems. Sometimes its employees simply remove (kill) the offending animals. This can be done with guns, traps or poisons. Other times large groups of offending animals can be dispersed from favorite resting or roosting areas.

I can’t begin to list the complete findings for 2017, but here are some sample results. Last year Wildlife Services killed 2,307,122 problem animals. It dispersed another 34,465,659.

By species, here’s a partial list for 2017:

Opossums – 2,832 killed

Black-tailed prairie dog – 15,233

Raccoons – 10,313

Badgers – 353

River otters – 587

Black bear – 537

Beavers – 23,644

Bobcats – 983

Feral cats – 472

Feral swine – 65,264

Coyotes – 69,041

Timber wolves – 357

Mountain lions – 316

White-tailed deer – 7,524

Canada geese – 21,488

Black vultures – 7,503

Turkey vultures – 1,474

Great blue herons – 564

Killdeer – 3,357

Red-tailed hawks – 1,701′

Feral chickens – 2,712

Rock pigeons – 74,990 / 160,489 dispersed

Mourning Doves – 22,924

American Robins – 451 / 18,149

European Starlings – 733,773 / 22,151,292 dispersed

Brown-headed Cowbirds – 285,657

Common grackles – 51,869

Red-winged blackbirds – 624,845 / 1,364,685 dispersed

American crows – 7,346

Common Ravens – 7,950

For complete results of Wildlife Services activities dating back to 1996, visit, click on “Wildlife Damage,” then click “Reports and WS Pubs,” then click “Program Data Reports.”

Killing wildlife as a job cannot be enjoyable, and I suspect it can take a psychological toll. It’s nasty work, but someone’s got to do it.

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Dr. Shalaway can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3 to 4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh or live online anywhere at Visit Scott’s website or contact him directly at or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.