12/11/2009 02:38 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

War on Wildlife Here at Home

Colorado is the front on another of the nation's wars: the war on wildlife, carried out by a little-known federal agency called "Wildlife Services." This agency's Western Regional Office is based right here in the Denver metro area, in Lakewood.

Innocuous though it may sound, Wildlife Services doesn't "service" the needs of wildlife - rather, it mows wildlife down by the millions.

A branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services has been slaughtering wildlife with the public's money since 1915. It eliminated grizzly bears, wolves, and prairie dogs across a vast swath of the continental U.S. - a slaughter campaign from which these species have yet to recover. In 2008, the agency killed record numbers of wildlife - nearly five million animals - including many native carnivores.

And they just keep on killing. Whatever your rationale - from the tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars to the lack of ethics to the array of macabre weapons involved - the war on wildlife needs to end.

Most recently, on December 5, Nevada approved a nearly $1 million program to kill coyotes, mountain lions, and bobcats - grisly work that will be carried out by Wildlife Services.

Wildlife Services itself receives about $120 million annually in federal taxpayer dollars to kill the nation's wildlife. In Colorado, Nevada, and throughout the west, native carnivores are gunned down from the sky and subjected to weapons such as M-44s, which shoot poisons into carnivores' mouths (including family pets) and Compound 1080, a poison used in "livestock protection collars" strapped to the necks of unsuspecting sheep and goats. Both poisons are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as having the highest degree of toxicity. Compound 1080, banned in some states, is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, water-soluble toxin considered to be a chemical weapon for its potential threat to water supplies.

In late November, WildEarth Guardians asked the Obama administration to stop aerial gunning and poisoning on federal public lands through a formal petition.

Our request is reasonable, as the governments' war on wildlife is one with scarce popular or scientific support. And it's certainly as horrific as our full-page ad in the Washington Post depicts.

The petition demonstrates that aerial gunning is not being adequately overseen by Colorado's Ken Salazar, the Secretary of Interior, as is required under the Airborne Hunting Act. Under the Act, states are required to file annual reports with Interior providing information about aerial gunning permits issued, the kinds and numbers of wildlife killed, where they are killed, and why. But when WildEarth Guardians filed a records request with Interior, Secretary Salazar was unable to show that his agency has monitored aerial gunning activities adequately -- including acts that appear to be illegal.

That Salazar is asleep at the wheel shows up in some vivid ways. Consider this bizarre report from Idaho:

A shotgun-wielding motorized parachutist fired on a pack of wolves earlier this year from the eastern Idaho sky, something forbidden even under a state permit that allows aerial gunning of foxes and coyotes.

But there's no indication that any law enforcement action has yet taken place, many months after the incident.

Folks from within Wildlife Services itself have come forward to report illegalities. Writes the Associated Press:

A former professional hunter for the U.S. government claims in a whistleblower complaint that he was fired in retaliation for reporting co-workers who illegally shot two mountain lions from an airplane in northeast Nevada.

Federal wildlife-killing programs are also unsafe and reckless. WildEarth Guardians has documented 119 aerial gunning accidents. Pilots fly into power lines and trees. Gunners shoot their own engines, and when they fail to make a clean kill, they double back into their own turbulence and plummet from wind shears.

Much of this nasty and reckless wildlife killing is happening under the Western Regional Office's watch. Remember, Sarah Palin's parents work for this agency, and the agency, well, has gone rogue.

The petition filed by Wendy Keefover-Ring, WildEarth Guardians' Carnivore Protection Director, would challenge continued carnivore killing by our federal government. We believe the government needs to get out of the business of killing carnivores. When coyotes, wolves, and mountain lions thrive, so does the balance of nature. Their presence ensures better ecosystem function, particularly in the arid West, and their presence dramatically increases the numbers of other species on the landscape.

Most Americans appreciate and value knowing that wild wolves, bears, lynx, and other carnivores can take refuge on our public lands. It's high time to end the war on wildlife.