Wildlife Advocates Denounce Aerial Gunning

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Flying at 40 feet or so AGL while firing at wild animals on the ground might not seem like the safest way to fly an airplane. But it's standard practice in the American West, where the federal government operates a fleet of aircraft and contracts with pilots to fly their own small airplanes and helicopters for "predator control." This summer, the practice is under fire from environmentalists, following several crashes they say boost their argument that the practice is unsafe ... for humans, that is. This summer, a small airplane and a helicopter involved in hunting crashed in Montana, injuring four people, two of them seriously, and a federal aircraft in Nevada crashed in July. The environmental group Sinapu, based in Boulder, Colo., said it has documented 21 crashes involving federal predator-control flights since 1989, resulting in seven fatalities and 23 injuries. Whether that represents a greater-than-average accident rate for GA operations is undetermined. Sinapu and other advocates argue that the program is costly, dangerous, and ineffective, and should be discontinued. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the benefits of its predator-control programs far outweigh the costs.