Restraining Order Denied for Cormorant Defenders

     SAN DIEGO (CN) — A federal judge Monday refused an animal rights group’s demand for a restraining order against the Coast Guard, which it accuses of letting federal wildlife agents slaughter cormorants in “a highly secretive program” called Wildlife Services.
     Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK, sued the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security on Friday in Federal Court. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia denied its request for a restraining order, finding that SHARK “has not demonstrated the requisite legal or factual basis required to support the extraordinary nature of the remedy it seeks.”
     SHARK said in its lawsuit that the U.S. Department of Agriculture “operates a highly secretive program called ‘Wildlife Services,’ which kills native predators with traps, snares, poisons, gas, and aerial gunning at the request of corporate agriculture. They slaughter millions of wild animals a year with taxpayer dollars, including over 100,000 vital native predators like wolves, cougars, coyotes and bears. The agency has refused congressional transparency and has refused to account for their spending.”
     SHARK did not sue the USDA. It sued the Coast Guard and DHS because, SHARK says, those agencies will not let its volunteers get close enough to the cormorant slaughter to document it.
     Cormorants dive and swim underwater as well as they fly. They are voracious eaters of salmon, which is why the USDA kills them, SHARK says.
     The federal government plans to kill 11,000 double-crested cormorants in four years at the mouth of the Columbia River, the nation’s largest colony of the birds. Last year alone, government-hired hunters killed 1,707 adults at the colony and prevented eggs from hatching in 5,089 nests, the Army Corps of Engineers reported in October 2015.
     Though double-crested cormorants are federally protected, so are the steelhead salmon they feast upon. The Corps of Engineers estimated that cormorants have been eating 11 million young salmon a year for 15 years.
     The government ordered the slaughter after the number of breeding pairs in the colony rose from about 100 in 1989 to 15,000 in 2013. When federal agencies announced their plans to kill nearly two-thirds of the cormorants there, animal lovers went ballistic.
     SHARK executive director Steve Hindi went to the Columbia River after the shooting began to try to document the USDA boat “Nessy,” which Wildlife Services agents used as a platform from which to kill the birds with shotguns. SHARK claims Wildlife Services stopped the slaughter on April 18, to prevent animal rights groups from filming them.
     A week later, the Coast Guard set up a “safety exclusion zone,” ordering all boats to stay at least 500 yards away from the “Nessy,” while it’s near Sand Island near Chinook, Wash. The safety zone will be in effect through June 3, SHARK says.
     The group claims wildlife agents boarded the SHARK boat to serve them the memo, inspect the boat, and interrogate the passengers.
     “The Wildlife Services employees have turned the shield of the exclusionary zone into a sword to actively harass, intimidate and bully,” SHARK claims.
     The cormorant slaughter continued, and SHARK claims the real purpose of the safety exclusion zone is to prevent them from gathering news and reporting on the government.
     It says the 500-yard exclusion zone is “orders of magnitude beyond a reasonable distance if the goal is to prevent shotgun pellets from hitting anyone.”
     They say 75 yards would be a reasonable distance, even if the agents were aiming shotguns at the SHARK boat, as shotgun pellets disperse at a short distance.
     SHARK attorney Bryan Pease said that before filing the lawsuit, the group sought administrative review from the Coast Guard and a “ride along” with the hunters, which the Coast Guard denied.
     “They’re a very secretive agency and don’t want people to know our taxpayer dollars are paying for the slaughter of wildlife animals for the sake of agricultural interests. It’s essentially a subsidy for the agriculture industry,” Pease said.
     Judge Battaglia, said, in essence, that SHARK’s complaint did not include enough evidence or factual allegations to support its request for the restraining order.
     Pease said he will file an amended complaint and another request for a restraining order, due to the “rapidly developing facts” in the case.
     The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment.

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