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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Greens Fight Widespread Wildlife Killings

BOISE (CN) - Truckling to ranchers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allows thousands of wolves, birds, foxes, beavers and other animals to be poisoned, trapped and shot, without taking a "hard look" at the environmental impacts, the Western Watersheds Project claims in court.

Western Watersheds and four other environmental groups on Wednesday sued the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, in Federal Court.

The animals are killed with poison livestock collars, guns, painful neck/body traps and other methods, according to the 40-page lawsuit.

"The killing is primarily done at the behest of cattle and sheep ranchers," the groups say. "Defendant USDA APHIS Wildlife Services spends millions of dollars and thousands of person-hours to kill thousands of wolves, coyotes, foxes, beavers, cougars, birds and other wildlife across Idaho every year, using aerial and ground shooting, poison, traps, explosives and other methods. Yet the agency has flouted its duty under NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act] to analyze these activities and disclose their likely impacts to the public through a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)."

The defendants use an outdated national statement, not specific to Idaho, to justify their actions and methods, according to Western Watersheds, which says the killings are illegal because a proper environmental impact statement required by NEPA was never completed.

"Indeed, Wildlife Services has never prepared an EIS to assess its wildlife damage management activities in Idaho, which largely consist of killing wildlife," the complaint states. "It relies on a nationwide Programmatic EIS issued two decades ago, which does not analyze Idaho-specific activities or impacts in any detail, and which is badly outdated and contrary to modern science concerning the impacts of killing Wildlife."

Western Watersheds claims the defendants try to justify using the outdated statement through a series of environmental assessments that fail to provide a "hard look at the environmental impacts of Wildlife Services' Idaho programs or to evaluate meaningful alternatives, as required by NEPA."

Researchers have reported that the methods used by the agency are not producing the intended results and are actually creating more problems, the groups say.

Fish and Wildlife has been criticized for its "accidents, mishaps and security breaches," its lethal methods that routinely result in a "large number" of "non-target" animals being killed, and some Fish and Wildlife employees have tried to cover up non-target kills, according to Western Watersheds.

"In recent years, wildlife researchers have published numerous studies finding that Wildlife Services' methods of wildlife killing do not produce the intended consequences - and instead produce many unintended consequences," according to the complaint. "Wildlife Services has failed to consider or supplement its analyses with this crucial information that fundamentally undermines its programs."

The groups also claim that Fish and Wildlife is neglecting its duty to protect species under the Endangered Species Act by relying on APHIS Wildlife Services' biological assessments, which make its biological opinion and incidental take statements for Canada lynx, grizzly bear and bull trout inaccurate.

The groups want seek an injunction preventing the defendants from killing any more animals until they comply with NEPA and complete a proper environmental impact statement.

Plaintiffs include WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Clearwater, and Project Coyote.

Their lead counsel is Lauren Rule with Advocates of the West.

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