The federal government ushered in predator control in 1885, under the auspices of the cryptically titled Branch of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy. In its 131 years of existence, this obscure agency, tasked with culling animals deemed “injurious to agriculture,” has undergone many name changes. In 1985, it was folded into the USDA and renamed Animal Damage Control. Today it is known as Wildlife Services. Since 2000, its agents have killed at least 2 million native mammals and 15 million native birds, as Christopher Ketcham reported in the March 2016 issue of Harper’s Magazine.
In order to better understand the process, I became a licensed Utah coyote exterminator. All it took was the completion of a short online quiz. My ace performance means that I am now licensed to shoot coyotes and to collect bounty from the state. At the time I took the test, in July 2015, it did not include any questions about safe hunting or humane trapping practice. More conspicuously, it did not require the test taker to identify a coyote or distinguish it from, say, a large dog or a wolf.
Hansen’s wife, whom I managed to reach by phone last November, told me that he was in Washington on business. I asked if she knew anything about the killing of a wolf near Beaver the previous December, and she replied, without hesitation, “No comment.”