Animal Kills by Federal Agency More than Double

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Animal Kills by Federal Agency More than Double

By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The number of animals poisoned, shot or snared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture more than doubled last year, and environmentalists who are critical of the killings are renewing their effort to cut the program's funding.

The USDA's Wildlife Services division killed more than 4.9 million animals during the 2008 fiscal year, some of them pests that threaten crops. That's more than double the 2.4 million animals killed the previous year, but the agency contends the increase is due to more accurate counting methods.

Wildlife Services, which released the annual death count last week, reported that 90 percent of animals killed in 2008 included crows, blackbirds, magpies and three species of invasive birds: European starlings, sparrows and pigeons.

Other animals included the nonnative Coqui frog in Hawaii, gray wolves in the Rocky Mountains and jackrabbits in New Mexico.

Agency spokeswoman Carol Bannerman said the agency is charged by Congress to respond to individuals and government agencies that are having problems with wildlife, including invasive and nonnative species. For example, she said the agency killed more than three dozen Gambian rats in Florida last year to ensure that the large rodents would not damage fruit and
vegetable crops.

In other areas of the country, starlings that were eating the feed at dairies were removed. Bannerman said milk production can drop if dairy cows are not getting enough protein and that bird droppings can harbor bacteria and viruses that can make livestock sick.

Bannerman pointed to a project that began Monday in New York City that calls for removing up to 2,000 Canada geese from parks that are within a 5-mile radius of John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in an attempt to avoid the type of collision that forced an airliner to have to ditch in the Hudson River in January.

"It's something more than predator management," Bannerman said of the agency's mission.

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