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Aerial wildlife killers should be grounded

Published: Wednesday, April 15 1998 12:00 a.m. MDT

Recent aircraft accidents that killed four federal predator control agents in Utah and California have once again put the public spotlight on USDA's secretive Animal Damage Control (ADC) program.

ADC has been waging a senseless war against wildlife at taxpayer expense, purportedly to protect agricultural interests, since 1931. In 1996, the program was featured on NBC's "The Fleecing of America" as a wasteful boondoggle. Last year, ADC changed its name to Wildlife Services in an attempt to camouflage its dirty deeds, but most of its critics refuse to use such a fraudulent name. It would be akin to calling the Internal Revenue Service "Taxpayer Services."Much of ADC's wildlife poisoning, trapping and aerial gunning is carried out in the West under the guise of "livestock protection," even though the vast majority of livestock losses are due to negligent animal husbandry, not predators.

Most ranchers don't use ADC. They either practice good animal husbandry or they accept livestock losses as a cost of doing business.

Recipients of taxpayer-funded predator control include ABC newsman Sam Donaldson and Congressman Joe Skeen, R-N.M., chairman of the House Appropriations agricultural subcommittee, who own huge ranches in southern New Mexico. In a recent five-year period, ADC agents visited Donaldson's ranch 412 times at taxpayer expense. Aerial gunning is one of the methods the government uses to kill wildlife for these deadbeat ranchers. Westwide, ADC aerial gunners shot 28,000 coyotes in 1996.

ADC's reckless, lawless aerial gunning practices have been a problem in the West for decades. Now, they are also the subject of a formal complaint to the Federal Aviation Administration, filed March 25 by the Humane Society of the United States.

The complaint asks for an investigation, a cease order and enforcement action for ADC's ongoing violations of federal law. Allegations in the complaint include the fact that ADC airplanes and helicopters are flying low and shooting over private property where they have no permission to be, that public land users are not being warned of the aerial gunning operations and that ADC's violations of FAA regulations are a danger to people on the ground and in the air.

Arrogant as always, ADC claims the FAA has no authority over its aviation operations and has never even bothered to ask for a waiver from FAA requirements.

The complaint requests that the FAA order ADC pilots to cease all such operations until such time as a complete and full investigation can be finished. It also requests civil enforcement actions against the pilots employed by ADC who violate Federal Aviation reg-u-la-tions.

In addition to the crashes that killed four predator control agents in the last 18 months, there are many other incidents showing a pattern of ADC's recklessness.

In November 1996, a small plane carrying an ADC coyote sharpshooter invaded military airspace in southwestern Idaho and came dangerously close to a pair of A-10 Warthog fighter jets engaged in military training exercises. The fighter jet pilots got close enough to read the plane's tail number and discovered it was leased by ADC.

In February 1997, an ADC helicopter illegally flew about 50 feet over the home of Raymond Freeman of Mule Creek, N.M., and shot several times at a coyote that had run onto his property from a neighboring ranch. He complained to an ADC ground crew, but instead of apologizing, the government agents laughed and said they were doing him a favor and he should be grateful.

What should outraged taxpayers do about ADC's aerial gunning abuses?

1. Write to the Federal Aviation Administration and ask them to take action on the Humane Society complaint and crack down on ADC's reckless, lawless aerial gunning practices.

2. If you see an aircraft flying low and suspect it may be engaged in aerial gunning, get the tail number (the "N" number) and call the nearest control tower or the FAA to find out who the owner of the aircraft is. Report the incident to the FAA and to Wildlife Damage Review (see address below). Videotape or photograph the aircraft if possible and document eyewitness accounts.

3. Write your elected officials and tell them it's time to stop wasting your tax dollars on wildlife killing for welfare ranchers.

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