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The C.A.S.H. Courier

ARTICLE from the Fall 2010 Issue

Walmart’s Barbaric “Pest Control” Methods

As Reported to C.A.S.H. by a former Walmart Pest Control Service
By E.M. Fay.

With their enormously high ceilings and large, frequently-opening doors, supermarkets and “big box” stores are often accidentally entered by wild birds, who then become trapped inside. Naturally frightened by the multitude of people, the near-constant activity, and unnatural terrain, they instinctively hide or fly upwards where they can’t be reached, and seldom make it back out through the doors unaided.

When we see a bird in a store, we may wonder how or if s/he ever gets out again. If a manager is asked if there is a method to release birds, they might say not to worry, that they will “take care of it.”

We spoke with a gentleman who for eight years was employed by Wal-Mart as a certified pest control expert, and his experience with the corporate giant was quite distressing. Joe (last name withheld for legal reasons), a trained wildlife removal technician, said that Wal-Mart’s policy towards “pest” animals grew progressively more inhumane over the years.
“They started out trying to do things the right way,” Joe said, “but things changed. It’s gotten worse over time.”

Joe worked as a “wildlife vendor” for Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club from 1999 to 2007. His pest control company “harvested” (i. e., shot) birds and other wildlife that came into the stores. When hired for his first job he didn’t realize the extent of the task. Since then, Wal-Mart has changed some removal policies and tried to keep them more secret, he stated.
In the early days, they tried using skylights to get the birds out. Joe himself took preventive measures to keep birds out, such as installing spikes on ledges near doors where pigeons might roost. Another technique was filling gaps in walls with foam. There weren’t many specialists such as him in those days; he often travelled across country on assignment. But as time went on, more people got into the trade who were less qualified and not knowledgeable about humane methods. In order to save money, Wal-Mart began using these untrained persons and took more aggressive action.

“We used to inspect stores to see if there were any issues we could fix.” Joe explained. “We reported building problems to corporate headquarters. We had ways that didn’t require shooting or capturing the birds. But now they don’t care how they do it. They push the vendors to get what they want as cheaply as possible. Recently, I found out from a Wal-Mart corporate employee that they are actually trying to find as many people as they can in all regions of the US to kill the birds.”

Whereas experts such as himself sometimes cost Wal-Mart $3000 for a bird removal operation, with uncertified workers, Joe told us, “Now, they can get it for maybe $300, so lots of people are willing to do it.” Wal-Mart often doesn’t bother to check if the worker has a license or wildlife training. “They don’t care. They just say, show us your insurance, so they are not liable,” he added.

Joe explained that the reason Wal-Mart and other stores can dispose of birds so cruelly is that some common species – English sparrows, starlings, and pigeons – are not federally protected. No permit is needed to kill such non-native birds. This fact was confirmed by Mitch Hartley of the Northeast Regional office of the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Mockingbirds, for example, are supposed to be protected, but less fortunate species have no government protection. Native birds are protected to a degree, but even they may sometimes be lethally removed by permit. “There is a reporting structure,” Hartley said. With permits, stores are allowed to kill a certain number if there is no “biological impact of mortality.”

When a mockingbird was trapped in a Louisiana store, federal wildlife investigators questioned Joe. “We were there for sparrows,” he explained. “A lady working in the bakery had been feeding the mockingbird. It was scared and went into hiding, and she thought we had shot it. I explained that we did not kill it. Even so, the store manager did not care that it was a federally protected bird.”

Joe described “mist nets,” which are very large, fine mesh. When used by a trained professional, they can capture birds carefully for release. However, Joe has known Wal-Mart to cut costs by having ordinary employees spread out the nets carelessly, and not bother to check them regularly to see if birds are caught in a way that might damage them.
Pellet rifles are also used currently. The staff is all cleared out and crews come in and shoot the birds, then remove the bodies. This is usually done without the knowledge of the general public, Joe stressed. Regarding blame for the birds’ deaths, he said, “They pass the buck onto the company hired to get rid of them.”

Joe said he found out that a Wal-Mart manager in Indiana asked his assistant to shoot some feral cats there. “The public found out about it. They both lost their jobs and Wal-Mart was fined.”

This is the kind of outcome Joe hopes will occur more often if the public becomes educated about the inhumane treatment of animals due to Wal-Mart’s policy. “Whether it’s birds, cats, insects, whatever, if you’re not educated on the subject you won’t do it right.

There are humane ways to do anything. My biggest motive is to educate the public about this.”

In fairness to Wal-Mart, we note that all food vendors get audited for food safety and pest control, and if a store doesn’t pass inspection, management can lose their jobs and the company is penalized. That said, Joe pointed out, vis-à-vis animal removal, “They will do almost anything to save their jobs and keep the audits going smoothly. I have seen first-hand the efforts made by Wal-Mart on a corporate level and by the stores themselves to eliminate wildlife by whatever means necessary.”

“Since the end of my time with Wal-Mart,” Joe concluded, “I have found out that they have recruited more companies nationwide to eliminate this problem of the birds. I also know of new rules and regulations they have passed to keep their associates and the general public from knowing what’s going on.”

Some grocery stores discourage nesting near their doors by placing plaster owls or other predatory bird images nearby. As Joe says, there are always more humane ways to tackle any problem. We at Wildlife Watch urge our readers to call and write to their local Wal-Mart and other stores, as well as corporate headquarters, and insist that they employ well-trained wildlife professionals who use only harmless methods of removing wildlife from their premises. Our wild birds deserve no less.

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