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Deadliest dozen: Where wildlife is at risk out west

Ingo Wagner/AFP/Getty Images

A grim new report from nonprofit environmental group WildEarth Guardians titled “The Deadliest Dozen Counties in the American West” details the areas where government agency Wildlife Services (a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) has killed the most mammalian carnivores over an 11-year period. It’s a list that includes bears, wolves, foxes, coyotes and bobcats that are taken down through a variety of means both to protect “agribusiness” (existing livestock and crops) and reduce predation on hoofed animals like elk, in part to satisfy hunting groups.

“It’s a desperate situation for wildlife that live in certain districts, especially Elko County, Nevada, which is the deadliest county in the West,” said Wendy Keefover, Director of Carnivore Protection for WildEarth Guardians, in a statement. The report, which covers the years 1998 through 2008, found that Elko County recorded by far the most at 17,805 kills.

Of those deadliest counties, California’s Kern County registered the fourth-most kills at 9,639. Oregon’s Malheur County (11,099) and Wyoming’s Carbon County (10,260) rounded out the top four slots. In terms of states, only Montana (94,114) and Wyoming (82,547) surpass California (76,110).

“Most of their ‘predator control’ operations in the West are for livestock protection, and most of what they kill are coyotes,” said Keefover when reached by email. “It doesn't benefit anyone. Killing coyotes does not get one less coyotes, because they change their breeding and immigration strategies to make up for their losses. So Wildlife Services has to keep on this vicious, 100-year cycle of killing. It keeps them in business, but it doesn't really help anyone. Most livestock growers lose their livestock to disease, birthing, and weather problems, but not from predators.”

“The intent is not to prevent predation,” responded William Clay, deputy administrator of Wildlife Services to the Spokesman Review, noting that controlling predators is of particular importance in western states where unfenced livestock is easy prey for unchecked predators. “All we’re trying to do is remove the problem animals.”