Mountain lions and other large carnivores remain in the brutal crosshairs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services. The opaque 'killing agency' has released new data that reveals it slaughtered more than 2.7 million animals throughout the country in 2016. Among the dead were 334 mountain lions. Three hundred of these individuals were intentionally killed for real or perceived livestock conflict across 11 Western states. The remaining lions were killed 'unintentionally,' meaning they were collateral damage as Wildlife Services was targeting other larger species such as wolves, coyotes and bears. The agency's tools of death include aerial gunning, trapping, snaring and poisoning.
Wildlife Services claims its mission it to provide "federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist." Even so, most of the wildlife touched by Wildlife Services is destroyed to benefit livestock and agricultural industries, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Use of non-lethal management to truly coexist with wildlife is not what the agency is known for.
"Mountain lions are hard-hit by Wildlife Services' indiscriminate practices." said Lynn Cullens, Executive Director of the Mountain Lion Foundation. "Lions aren't well-understood and they pay a high price to that agency for conflict, or perceived conflict, that we can ill afford as their populations continue to decline across the West."
Killing mountain lions and other predators to reduce livestock depredation has been an old and strongly-held practice that is rapidly being proven ineffective. In a wave of recent scientific studies, findings are showing that, in fact, indiscriminate killing of large carnivores can actually increase conflict with livestock. When Wildlife Services kills mature large carnivores who have not bothered livestock they are actually setting the stage for conflict.
"We know anecdotes and perceptions don't get us very far when we're dealing with a problem like livestock predation," said Adrian Treves, a conservation biologist from the University of Wisconsin and co-author of the study, according to National Geographic. "The science of predator control has been slow and not very advanced."
In the case of mountain lions, when mature, experienced lions who aren't causing a problem are eliminated preventitively, immature and newly independent lions move in and may test out easier prey such as sheep and goats. So killing a non-problem lion because he or she might be a problem brings in younger lions who become a problem. Many ranchers appreciate having a mature tom around who knows the ropes and eats appropriate prey such as deer and meso predators like raccoons, coyotes and beavers. Killing mountain lions to reduce livestock predation is simply not an effective means of predator management.
Wildlife Services continues to slaughter mountain lions and other wildlife on our taxpayer dime despite a growing outcry from the public to reform their barbaric, unnecessary and outdated practices. The Center for Biological Diversity issued a media statement this week stating that there is no scientific basis for killing millions of wild animals every year using cruel and grossly indiscriminate practices. It is also likely that Wildlife Services kills far more animals than it reports, according to unnamed sources. And according to Predator Defense, a nonprofit advocacy organization, at least 34 million animals have been killed by Wildilfe Services in the past decade.
Wildlife Services' killing tactics remain highly controversial. The journal Frontiers in Ecology and Environment published a 2016 study that found little evidence that killing predators reduces livestock loss in any remarkable way.
It's time Wildlife Services stop its excessive killing and be accountable to its mission. Mountain lions and other large carnivores help keep the balance of ecosystems and the livestock industry must be responsible for protecting their animals and accepting certain loss as the price for doing business on a healthy landscape.