(EnviroNews Arizona) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has announced it intends to hire known wolf exterminator William Bennett Nelson of Bill Nelson Wildlife Control to trap and radio-collar endangered Mexican gray wolves (Canis lupus baileyi) in New Mexico and Arizona, causing “fury” amongst environmental and animal rights groups, according to a news release issued by Western Watersheds Project (WWP) on August 27, 2019.
According to the release, “long-time wolf advocates came across a request for public input on the intent for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Mexican Wolf Recovery Team.” Unfortunately for the advocates, they discovered the request with only five days remaining in the public comment period, leaving little time to rally their troops to leave comments for USFWS.
WWP’s news release also pointed out that Nelson is essentially being handpicked for the job by USFWS, saying the agency reasoned that the “contract did not need to be filled through an open bidding due to Nelson’s expertise from working for USDA’s Wildlife Services.”
Nelson is a highly controversial figure amongst animal defenders. He was a predator control officer and wild canine killer for the USDA’s Wildlife Services (WS) — a federal agency that remains far more controversial than Nelson himself. WS has been called “secretive” and “rogue,” by news agencies and federal lawmakers alike, and fails to maintain social media accounts or correspond with the public in any meaningful way. WS eradicates millions of wild and predatory animals in the United States every year and has been doing so for a century — all with hard-earned taxpayer dollars.
The media spotlight hit Nelson back in 2013 when he killed an endangered Mexican gray wolf (MW 1288) and blamed the incident on a case of mistaken identity, claiming he thought it was a coyote. Although the event was clearly illegal, Nelson wasn’t prosecuted due to the McKittrick Policy. That policy directs DOJ prosecuting attorneys to request jury instructions that require proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant knew the identity of the animal taken, and knew it was endangered. Hence, Nelson walked free due to a lack of evidence in 2013. Following a lawsuit by WildEarth Guardians, the McKittrick Policy was struck down by the courts in 2017, but that ruling was overturned in 2018 by an appellate court, restoring the code.
The WWP release also displayed the contents of a joint letter of objection authored by a coalition of allied environmental groups. It was signed by members of Lobos of the Southwest, Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project, Great Old Broads For Wilderness, Wolf Conservation Center, Wild Arizona, and Western Watersheds Project, and was addressed to several high-ranking members of USFWS including Lisa Rodriguez, Amy Lueders, and Brady McGee, who is the Service’s Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator.
The joint letter sent by the environmental groups addressed the episode thusly:
…[in] January 2013, [Nelson] is known to have illegally and undisputedly killed an endangered Mexican gray wolf (MW 1288) while under the employment of the USDA Wildlife Services agency. The fact that he was not prosecuted does not reduce the illegality of his killing of the wolf.
The letter also points to other alleged criminal behavior perpetrated by Nelson while he was on the job with WS:
In 2007, while employed as a USDA Wildlife Services predator control officer, there was reporting that he allegedly pointed a rifle at a New Mexico Game and Fish biologist after he had killed a wolf and she tried to tell him that the kill order of a wolf (AF 924) had been rescinded.
The coalition complained that Nelson is “at best… simply unqualified because he cannot distinguish between a coyote and a Mexican wolf,” and continued by saying that he should “at least [be] ineligible to turn around, just six years later, and profit from his inept ability to identify an endangered Mexican wolf.”
“We don’t believe that this contractor should have anything to do with helping the USFWS fulfill their obligation of Mexican wolf recovery,” the coalition concluded.
Greta Anderson, Deputy Directory with WWP, told EnviroNews that the main reason for the letter was to “bring attention to [Nelson’s hiring] as a way of raising concerns as to the current direction of the [Mexican Wolf Recovery] Program. Anderson also said it was their hope to “convince the USFWS to redirect funds toward projects that lessen conflict instead of risking mortality and certain harassment through trapping.”
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