The quest for justice takes many forms, but all share the goal of ending domination and violence by one group against another.
So why is Doña Ana County continuing to do business with a federal agency that has a long history of violence against wild animals?
U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services has contracts with counties around the country, including Doña Ana, to deal with wildlife conflicts. In nearly all cases, the way the agency resolves the problem is to kill the animal, even though non-lethal alternatives exist.
Wildlife Services kills millions of animals in the U.S. each year by aerial gunning, shooting, poisoning, trapping and snaring. Its victims include coyotes, prairie dogs, beavers, wolves, all kinds of birds, and many others. Domestic dogs are some of the many unintentional victims that succumb to the agency’s indiscriminate poisons and traps.
Here in Doña Ana County, the targets are mainly skunks, rock squirrels, coyotes, pigeons and an occasional beaver and mountain lion, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $90,000.
Enough. Justice for wildlife means finding a way to coexist with them instead of killing them every time someone calls Wildlife Services with a complaint.
Last year, residents called on the county commission to end its contract with Wildlife Services and adopt “The People’s Contract.” This alternative agreement prioritized non-lethal methods and prohibited cruel and indiscriminate lethal methods including aerial gunning, trapping and sodium cyanide bombs. It also called for full accountability and transparency from Wildlife Services, an agency notorious for its secrecy.
The county commission rejected The People’s Contract, but imposed a new requirement on Wildlife Services to try non-lethal methods at least twice before resorting to killing an animal. Unfortunately, that compromise was undermined when the commission also approved an exemption insisted upon by Wildlife Services that allowed the agency to skip non-lethal methods in the case of “an imminent threat to human health or safety, property, livestock, companion animals and confirmed depredations.”
It was a hole big enough to drive a truck through. Now, one year later, we see that the trucks have been driving through that hole all year long.
It is clear nothing has changed. Wildlife Services continues to respond to complaints about wildlife the same way it always has, by killing animals rather than trying to find ways to coexist.
Counties all over the country are tearing up their contracts with Wildlife Services and demanding that the agency use non-lethal methods. A number of counties in New Mexico do not have contracts with Wildlife Services, including Bernalillo and Santa Fe. In counties without contracts with Wildlife Services, businesses have sprung up to help residents coexist with wildlife.
There are plenty of non-lethal alternatives available. Instead of paying Wildlife Services to kill animals in an endless application of band-aid solutions, the county could be using that money to help residents prevent conflicts from occurring in the first place. Money could also be spent on broad public education efforts to help residents to prevent problems in the first place — something Wildlife Services never does.
The contract with Wildlife Services is up for renewal right now. The county commission has a choice. It can renew the contract as is, or it can replace it with one that truly prioritizes coexistence, and justice for wildlife.
Kevin Bixby is executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center.
Originally published in the Las Cruces Sun News: