Aerial Assault on Animals Flies Under the Radar

In mid-December, the advocacy group, WildEarth Guardians, settled a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought in federal court against the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to obtain reports related to the aerial killing of wildlife. Thousands of animals, including wolves, coyotes, and numerous other species are killed via aerial gunning permits each year. In a typical scenario, gunners in airplanes chase these animals to exhaustion and then shoot them from the air—sometimes leaving them not dead but wounded and suffering. The vast majority of this occurs under the direction of the Wildlife Services program of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The Airborne Hunting Act (AHA) generally prohibits shooting or harassing any bird, fish, or other animal from aircraft. However, state and federal governments are allowed to issue permits for aerial gunning in defense of “land, water, wildlife, livestock, domesticated animals, human life, or crops.” While the law requires state agencies issuing such permits to file annual reports with the Secretary of the Interior containing crucial information—including species and number of animals killed—the records obtained indicate that most agencies fail to do so, leaving aerial gunning virtually unmonitored. As a result of the lawsuit, the USFWS is sending a letter to all states in 2012 notifying them of their AHA reporting requirements.