Activists Allege US Government Funding Contributes to Endangered Animal Deaths


The federal government of the United States has been accused of financing state-organized hunts of large, endangered animals, such as gray wolves and grizzly bears, which increase the probability of their extinction.

Late in 2021, a coalition of more than 35 animal welfare and Indigenous groups formally petitioned the United States Department of the Interior to devise rules to withhold funding from state agencies that fund “slaughters.” The groups allege that the department has not responded to the petition.

In light of a June Alaska Department of Fish and Game operation in which helicopter-mounted hunters killed 94 brown bears, five black bears, and five wolves, the coalition renewed its appeal. In a letter to Deb Haaland, secretary of the Department of the Interior, dated 23 August 2023, the coalition stated that the “extinction crisis is not an abstraction; it is a clear and present danger and an impending catastrophe”.

“The [department of the interior] is tasked with preventing extinctions, using sound science when making decisions to prevent those extinctions, and with being accountable to the entire public – not funding controversial predator-control actions for the purported benefit of a few.”

The letter also described the controversial “Judas wolf” strategy, in which state agents in Alaska place radio transmitters on wolves that return to their packs and are then killed by hunters.

Similar hunts have been conducted in Wisconsin, Montana, and Idaho, and state game agencies claim that the kills are conservation initiatives designed to bolster dwindling populations of caribou, moose, elk, and other prey species targeted by large predators.

The interior department stated in a statement to the Guardian that federal funds are not used for killings. Melissa Schwartz, a department spokesperson, stated that the allegation that the department funded state killings was “wildly inaccurate”.

However, the coalition argued that the Interior Department’s statement is deceptive. Attorney Jeff Ruch of the non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Peer) stated that federal funds cannot be used to purchase ammunition or firearms for expeditions, which are paid for with state funds.

He added that federal funds can be used to organize and supervise the operation.

Ruch stated, “Our petition is to change the rules so they can look at the whole state program and whether states are doing things that undermine federal policy and should be made unfundable.”

The federal funds that go to state agencies for the purpose of protecting wildlife are derived from sales taxes on firearms and fishing equipment. Ruch stated that the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which is part of the interior department, distributes up to $1 billion to state agencies. These funds make up between one-third and two-thirds of state game agency budgets.

The petition for rulemaking seeks to deny federal wildlife management funding to states that conduct out the kills and to give scientists and conservation organizations the ability to remark on any proposed predator kills. Attorneys for Peer stated that this condition is currently mandated by law but lacks an enforcement mechanism; the proposed rule would fill this void.

Peer attorney Chandra Rosenthal stated, ““We’re looking for leverage for the federal government to crack down on rogue states that are doing these crazy predator kills.” “This is a tool in the tool belt to exert pressure to protect endangered species.”

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Debate Over Government Response and Predator Control Continues

The federal government of the United States has been accused of financing state-organized hunts of large, endangered animals, such as gray wolves and grizzly bears, which increase the probability of their extinction.

Although the coalition claims it has not received a response to its petition, Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Department of the Interior, says Haaland responded in a letter dated 2022. The department informed the Guardian that the letter is subject to a Freedom of Information Act request but would not promptly provide it.

Peer attorneys stated that they were unaware of the letter, and Ruch deemed it “odd” that the interior department would consider a letter to be a “response” to a rule-making petition. Ruch stated that the Interior Department has not taken any of the three actions available to federal agencies when responding to a petition: adopt it as a rule, reject it, or request additional information.

Rosenthal stated that Haaland has twice canceled meetings with coalition organizations, whereas Schwartz stated there was no trace of this. Rosenthal stated that fish and wildlife officials who met with the coalition stated that any decision on the issue would have to come from higher up the command chain.

She noted that the federal government had previously taken comparable actions. It has withheld road funding from states that did not enforce federally recommended speed limits, and in Minnesota, the interior department has withheld funding from the state’s department of natural resources due to forestry issues.

The groups also assert that predator killings have little effect on prey population growth. Adrian Treves, a predator-prey ecologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a member of Peer’s board, stated that no appropriate studies have been conducted to determine whether or not hunting protects livestock. Rather, more research has been conducted on the effects of the slaughter on populations of caribou, moose, elk, and other wildlife, and a 2020 meta-analysis of the available scientific literature found little evidence that they increase populations.

Weather and habitat are much larger factors in herd health, according to research, but state game agencies continue to promote hunting because “hunter perception is a big part of it, and their attitudes are typically negative toward predators”.

Rosenthal stated that the attacks appear to be more of a political and cultural issue.

She stated, “It seems like it’s part of the rightwing agenda to be able to do whatever they want on public lands, and they’re sticking it to the libs.”


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Source: The Guardian

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