LAS VEGAS (CN) – The federal government killed more than 5 million wild animals illegally in Nevada, including “majestic” carnivores, based on an outdated, 30-year-old environmental impact survey, WildEarth Guardians claims in Federal Court.
“Every year, our nation’s most majestic animals, including wolves, coyotes and mountain lions, are poisoned, trapped and gunned down by Wildlife Services, a program within the [U.S. Department of Agriculture,]” the complaint states. “Family pets and federally protected species are also injured or killed by the agency’s indiscriminate killing methods.”
The nonprofit environmental group sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, aka APHIS or Wildlife Services.
WildEarth Guardians claims Wildlife Services issued a “programmatic environmental impact statement,” analyzing the impacts of its wildlife-killing activities for only 17 species based on kill data “based primarily on studies from the 1970s and 1980s.”
“Fast forward to 2010, when Wildlife Services killed over 5 million animals, representing a total of approximately 300 species – far more target and non-target species than were considered” in the environmental impact study, according to the complaint.
“Today, Wildlife Services spends approximately $126 million annually to kill millions of animals, in contrast to the $26 million spent in 1988.”
Wildlife Services uses “woefully outdated and inadequate” environmental impact surveys for its killing, and fails “to take into account recent reports on the risks and inefficiencies of Wildlife Services’ activities, dramatic changes in public perceptions and values pertaining to wildlife and new biological and scientific information,” the complaint states.
WildEarth Guardians also claims Wildlife Services was sanctioned by the USDA Office of Inspector General for its “unsafe handling of toxins that could be used in biological warfare.”
In 2007, the agency “admitted that it had experienced a ‘wake of accidents’ that involved its aerial gunning program, its hazardous chemicals inventory and more. Nevertheless, the internal culture of this killing agency continues as a ‘semi-autonomous bureaucracy whose function in many localities bears scant relationship to real need and less still to scientific management,’ as described in a famous 1964 report to Congress dubbed the ‘Leopold Report'” of 1964, according to the complaint.
Despite WildEarth Guardians’ attempts to present new information, “Wildlife Services refuses to supplement or revise” its environmental impact studies, “and continues to rely on this insufficient and outdated environmental analysis of its national activities,” according to the complaint.
WildEarth Guardians also challenges the Wildlife Services’ June 2011 assessment of the impact of the program in Nevada. It claims the assessment is “flawed and failed to adequately and fully consider the impacts of the removal of carnivores, including coyotes and mountain lions, on carnivore populations, prey populations, non-target species and other ecosystems. Instead, the environmental assessment relied upon and tiered to the outdated and insufficient analysis. Wildlife Services violated NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act] by failing to analyze the direct, indirect, cumulative and site-specific environmental impacts of leghold traps, padded-jaw leghold traps, cage traps, aerial hunting, shooting, calling and shooting, neck snares, denning, and toxic chemicals that will be used to kill wildlife in Nevada. The Environmental Assessment also lacked scientific integrity and failed to include a credible cost-benefit analysis of this program, in violation of NEPA. Moreover, because the widespread killing of native carnivores such as coyotes, mountain lions, and other wildlife in Nevada may have a significant impact on the environment, Wildlife Services must prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement for its Nevada program and update its programmatic environmental analysis, to comply with NEPA.
“Finally, Guardians challenges Wildlife Services’ decision to use lethal and nonlethal methods, immobilization, frightening devices, aerial hunting, leghold traps, cage traps, shooting, dogs, foot snares, neck snares, and toxic chemicals in Wilderness Areas in Nevada, where these methods use motor vehicles, motorized equipment, the landing of aircraft, or other forms of mechanical transport, in violation of the Wilderness Act. Using helicopters to shoot and kill animals in wilderness areas is illegal and contrary to wilderness values. Wildlife Services must withdraw its decision to kill native carnivores in Wilderness Areas, where its actions violate the Wilderness Act.
“Because Wildlife Services violated and continues to violate NEPA and the Wilderness Act, Guardians hereby seeks declaratory and injunctive relief from this Court.”
Wildlife Guardians seeks an injunction, costs and penalties for violations of NEPA and the Wilderness Act.
It is represented by Julie Cavanaugh-Bill of Elko, and staff attorney Ashley Wilmes, of Boulder, Colo.