Teach the children well: How to poison, trap and snare predators
Most children in this country have never witnessed the awesome beauty and wildness of this nation’s grand wild predators. From the mighty grizzly bear to the elusive gray wolf, predators have been targeted by a “predator prejudice” ingrained in our literature, reinforced in our fairy tales and falsely depicted on the big screen. At least our 55 million public school children are learning about the ecological value and misinformation about predators, right? Well, maybe not so right, especially if a teacher has reached out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and their “Living with Wildlife” worksheets and their 27-minute color video of the same name. While the children industriously fill-in their puzzles with their lime green and fluorescent orange pencil, pen and ruler set, aglow with the Animal Damage Control insignia, their role model, their teacher can lead them into the wonderful world of misinformation and lies, all paid for by the American taxpayer.
No, you won’t hear the Alliance for America or the American Farm Bureau screaming about wasteful spending by onerous “big brother”, no, this federal program is as welcomed as brand new set of leghold traps. This “educational tool” takes kid on a fantasy trip of unimaginable deceit and exaggeration. The 27- minute video is full of horrific imagery: coyotes attacking sheep, mutilated dead lambs and a child attacked by a mountain lion. Unfortunately, the dark side of predator control is kept secret.
The worksheets abound with problematic scenarios for the children to solve. “Ms. Hernandez has a problem. She can’t get to school for two reasons: (1) A tree fell on her bus; and (2) The road is flooded. What animal do you think caused this damage?” Initially, I though the correct answer was President Bush and Dick Cheney were logging in Texas and the tree hit a hydrant. That is not the correct answer. The answer is: beavers, and we better trap those varmints. Under a picture of a cougar, bear and fox, is written the question, “ Why do animals like these attack livestock? How can Mr. Green protect his sheep?” Take his sheep off of cheaply subsidized public lands? Buy some guard dogs? Post pictures of the Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton? No, on all three counts. Let’s use leghold traps, pour gasoline into the dens of coyote pups, use Compound 1080 (one of the world’s most toxic chemicals) or just shoot them.
Sadly, most of the school children, let alone their parents, know relatively little about our government’s war on native predators, the costs in things “wild and free” and the hole it cuts into the taxpayers’ collective wallets. The Animal Damage Control division has changed their name to Wildlife Services, apparently an attempt to be politically correct. Yet, the vast majority of money is used to appease a small number of vocal western ranchers and to protect the agricultural interests, not benefit all Americans.
The proposed 2002 budget is over $37 million dollars, with thousands of coyotes and hundreds of bears, mountain lions, badgers and bobcats targeted for destruction. The means of destruction have all the feelings of medieval dungeons’ tools of torture and pain. Compound 1080, a barbaric poison put into sheep collars causes the unfortunate coyote who bites it to vomit, convulse and drool to death. An unfortunate scavenger then can die from secondary poisoning. Find the coyote den, and simply drop in burning cartridges of sodium nitrate suffocating pups whose only crime was to be born. Or maybe use the tool that dozens of nations have banned, the leghold. Notorious for its’ pain, non-selective catching ability and downright inhumanness, the trap is a cheap alternative to more reasonable approaches.
Research has proven that guard dogs, llamas and even burros can repel predators. Lambing sheds and protective enclosures for nighttime protection make wonderful sense. Instead of subsidies that encourage poor land husbandry and anti-predator sentiment, the “Wildlife Services” should encourage non-lethal techniques.
The Wildlife Services and Department of Agriculture should be embarrassed, and should strive for balance especially in the classroom. Will they distribute worksheets explaining the role of predators in nature? Balancing rodent populations, removing the weak and sick from the gene pool and playing the role of keystone in many an ecosystem are roles that children need to recognize. Even species they term as “pests”, such as beavers, restore riparian zones and create ponds that enhance natural systems. Will they explain how we can live with predators, know how to react in unlikely encounters and plan our development to include our predator species?
Not for a moment should a human death or even an attack by a predator on a human be trivialized. Yet, over two-dozen human deaths have been attributed to Compound 1080 (there is no known antidote for cases of human poisoning), and little has been publicized. Even landslides due to poor logging have killed humans and pesticides have killed humans and caused illness for untold thousands, yet they seem to draw little interest in a world where the image of the killer wolf still looms large: though there has never been a documented case of a wolf killing a human in the western states.
So, when the hot summer hours chill into the autumn winds of school time, will the Wildlife Services folks atone for bad educational materials? It is highly unlikely to see a change in those who slovenly feed at the nation’s trough of grazing, mining, logging and now, predator control subsidies. As Tom McDonnell, head of the 90,000 member American Sheep Industry Association claims, “We are dealing with the public’ s predators predating on private property. How can we interpret the Fifth Amendment (takings should be compensated)? We think the public has an obligation to pay.”
Now there is an example of the bold western mantra, “Manifest Subsidy” he cries as he rides into the sunset. This fall when the Alliance for America sends their “Provider Pals” into urban schools, and they dress up as ranchers, farmers and loggers, will the rancher show those Boston and New York City kids how to poison, trap and shoot a bear? Predators do provide something too, other than something to shoot at.
Students need to hear a range of data on this issue, along with facts about the use of public lands to make ecological sound decisions. With all the facts presented and understood by children, the greatest fear for the friends of the Wildlife Services is that it will fall into its’ own lethal trap: scientific truth.
John F. Borowski lives in Philomath, Oregon and has been a teacher for over two decades (environmental and marine science). His pieces have appeared in the UTNE Reader, PR Watch, Forest Voice, N.Y. Times, Z Magazine, Oregonian, EducationNews.org, Counterpunch and the Liberal Slant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org