By Freedom Newspapers
Two federal agriculture agents were killed June 1 when their plane crashed as they were shooting wildlife in Wayne County, Utah. This was the 26th such crash, and the 10th and 11th fatalities, that have happened during aerial gunning since 1979. Another 27 people have been injured while shooting animals from airplanes or helicopters.
Gunners have taken to the sky twice in the past year in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, both times to reduce the numbers of nilgai antelope running wild. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services reports that it kills more than 1.5 million animals a year, including bobcats, badgers, foxes, wolves and even regular housecats. The program costs U.S. taxpayers about $100 million a year, and an average of one airplane or helicopter, with at least one injury or death, crashes per year.
One would think officials would recognize there are better ways to control these animals.
The practice is inherently risky, since the pilots fly low to get near the animals and often are distracted. Pilots focusing their attention on the animals they are chasing have flown into trees, power lines and even land formations.
Some 27 environmental and wildlife advocacy groups are petitioning the USDA to stop the practice. We agree. It seems the most costly and least efficient method to reduce animal populations.
Smaller animals like those mentioned above could be rounded up with traps and disposed of more effectively and humanely than shooting at them from the sky, which probably results in many nonfatal hits that only leave the animals injured and suffering, and susceptible to infection or attack by predators and scavengers.
A better option exists for culling herds of larger animals like the nilgai gunned down in Texas and elk at Rocky Mountain National Park that recently were hunted at night by government sharpshooters using military weapons that included silencers and night-vision scopes.
It should be quite simple to hold public hunts for the animals; countless hunters would pay good money for the chance to harvest one or two of the animals, which could provide several hundred pounds of meat for their families. In fact, public hunts already are held during December and January every year at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
Rather than cost taxpayers money, public hunts generate revenue, not only for federal and state wildlife agencies but for the areas in which the hunts are held. Hunters spend money at area sporting goods stores, restaurants and hotels.
Addressing overpopulated wildlife numbers through public hunts would generate revenue rather than cost taxpayers millions, and eliminate the high-risk, low-percentage aerial hunts that already have cost nearly a dozen lives and more than two dozen other casualties. It would seem an obvious, logical option.
Maybe it’s too logical for the folks working for our government.