WASHINGTON (CN) – Conservationists brought a federal complaint Wednesday to unearth records on the U.S. government’s plan to kill thousands of native predators in Colorado, including black bears, bobcats and mountain lions.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture subunit called the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service authorized the so-called predator-damage management almost a year ago exactly. Rather than preparing an environmental impact statement on the program, however, APHIS issued only a finding of no significant impact.
Shortly after this Jan. 17 determination was made, the Western Environmental Law Center submitted a Feb. 10 records request to the agency on behalf of Wildearth Guardians.
The nonprofit filed suit Wednesday in Washington, alleging violations of the Freedom of Information Act. Noting that FOIA gives federal agencies just 20 days to determine whether it will comply with the requests they receive, Wildearth Guardians says it has waited more than 229 days with no update.
The group’s 6-page complaint contends that APHIS “will use cruel techniques to kill the animals, including poisons, gunning from airplanes and helicopters, and indiscriminate traps.”
In-house counsel Kelly Nokes of Missoula, Montana, and Neil Kagan, of Portland, Oregon, signed the action.
In addition to the FOIA case, Wildearth Guardians is challenging the predator-culling program under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
Filed with a Colorado federal judge in April, this 16-page petition accuses APHIS of expanding its management of Colorado predators “to boost the mule deer populations in Colorado.”
This is a departure from the practice by APHIS to carry out predator killings in response to reports of livestock depredations, according to the complaint.
Wildearth Guardians says predator-damage management lessens its members’ enjoyment of wilderness areas, and it puts other lives at risk.
“Petitioners’ members’ reasonably fear for the safety of themselves and their domestic animals when recreating in areas where Wildlife Services may have placed traps, snares, or chemicals, including M-44 devices,” the petition states.
The petition says APHIS has a track record of accidentally killing nontarget animals when conducting predator-damage management.
In addition to domestic dogs, animals inadvertently killed or captured by APHIS include grizzly bears, the Canada lynx, gray wolves, wolverines, and bald and golden eagles. The Canada lynx is a threatened species protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Representatives for APHIS declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Though the agency made its Jan. 17, 2017, decision three days before the inauguration of President Donald Trump, Wildearth Guardians staff attorney Kelly Nokes emphasized that her group has nine pending FOIA lawsuits.
"We're really pushing the Trump administration hard for their accountability to the public under FOIA," Nokes said in a phone interview.
Nokes said the information the group seeks could help with its challenge to a proposal by the state of Colorado to undertake predator-killing studies in two areas of the state that target mountain lions and black bears to assess whether they boost the mule deer populations.
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