The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) has awarded journalist Tom Knudson of the Sacramento Bee with the Schweitzer Medal for his outstanding investigative journalism and commitment to both thorough research and candor in writing and publishing a series of articles examining the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program.
For over 60 years, the Schweitzer Medal has been a symbol of outstanding achievement in the advancement of animal welfare. In 1951, Dr. Albert Schweitzer gave his permission to AWI to strike a medal in his honor to be presented to others who have made substantial contributions to the protection of animals and to raising public awareness about relevant issues. In granting his permission, Dr. Schweitzer wrote, “I would never have believed that my philosophy, which incorporates in our ethics a compassionate attitude toward all creatures, would be noticed and recognized in my lifetime.” In December 1953, a gold replica of the medal was presented to Dr. Albert Schweitzer by Dr. Charles Joy in Oslo, Norway, where Dr. Schweitzer had gone to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2012, Mr. Knudson wrote a series of articles examining Wildlife Services, the federal program responsible for trapping and killing countless animals. Through interviews, as well as materials obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, he found that the program’s practices and culture are profoundly out of line with both sound environmental policy and fiscal responsibility. The articles shed light on issues of great significance to animal welfare, in particular the indiscriminate and inhumane methods—including dangerous poisons, cruel leghold traps, strangling snares and aerial gunning—employed by agents of the program.
The investigation revealed that since 2000, Wildlife Services has mistakenly killed more than 50,000 non-target animals not considered threats to agriculture. Among these animals are federally protected species such as golden and bald eagles, as well as over 1,100 dogs. Moreover, according to Wildlife Services’ own records, the agency has accidentallykilled more than 150 species since 2000—and insiders interviewed in the course of the review indicated that agency records dramatically underestimate the impact that the “killing agency” and its practices have had on non-target species. Follow-up articles published in late 2012 and 2013 uncovered similarly alarming data about Wildlife Services’ killing activities, and have raised substantial concerns about the program’s lack of transparency and public accountability. The critical information revealed during the course of Mr. Knudson’s research underscores the need for reform within Wildlife Services and highlights the significance of his investigative work. By exposing Wildlife Services’ irresponsible wildlife management methods, Mr. Knudson has demonstrated a commitment not only to exceptional investigative journalism, but also to raising public awareness about the federal government’s ongoing, taxpayer-funded wildlife killing practices. His dedication to exhaustive research and objective writing has provided an essential avenue for the American public to become engaged in an issue of critical importance to the advancement of animal welfare.