(CN) – A trio of wildlife groups sued the federal government Tuesday seeking a new environmental analysis for what they claim is an outdated wildlife killing program targeting thousands of native carnivores including coyotes and foxes in 10 Northern California counties.
In their 16-page lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California, the Center for Biological Diversity, Animal Legal Defense Fund and Project Coyote seek an injunction and declaration the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services’ plan for killing native species on request by farmers and ranchers does not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
NEPA requires a supplemental analysis of the program when “significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts” emerge.
The current analysis is more than 20 years old and the wildlife groups claim a new analysis of the killing program’s impacts – taking into consideration new scientific publications on the ineffectiveness of predator control – must be prepared.
The Obama administration announced plans in October 2016 to redo or revise NEPA documents tied to the wildlife killing plan. But when the Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter this past February requesting an updated environmental analysis based on current science, the USDA’s Wildlife Services director for California stated a new analysis was being prepared following a settlement.
But that agreement only governs actions in the North District of California, not the Sacramento District, according to the lawsuit.
The groups want an injunction preventing Wildlife Services from engaging in wildlife killing in the Sacramento District unless and until it complies with NEPA.
“Wildlife Services’ cruel killing practices are ineffective, inhumane and totally out of touch with science,” Collette Adkins, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney representing the conservation groups involved in the lawsuit, said in a statement.
“Nonlethal methods of addressing wildlife conflicts are proven to work. We’re suing the agency to force a closer look at alternatives to its damaging mass-extermination program,” Adkins added.
Wildlife Services declined to comment on pending litigation.
Nationwide, Wildlife Services kills more than 1 million native animals annually. Thousands of non-target animals including federally protected animals such as gray wolves, California condors and bobcats are unintentionally killed, according to the complaint.
The agency employs leg-hold traps, cage traps, snares, Conibear traps, snap traps, mole and gopher traps, poisonous gas, shooting, aerial gunning, hunting dogs, M-44 “cyanide bombs, livestock protection collars and other lethal predator control methods.
Last year in California, Wildlife Services killed 26,441 native animals including 3,826 coyotes, 859 beavers, 170 foxes, 83 mountain lions, 105 black bears and 5,675 birds, according to the wildlife groups.
And the numbers of native animals killed in the Sacramento District has dramatically increased since the initial environmental analysis was performed in 1997, with some individual counties now nearly exceeding the annual districtwide averages, the wildlife groups claim.
While the killing program initially targeted predators, it’s since expanded to kill other kinds of animals including thousands of beavers, blackbirds, skunks and squirrels, according to the complaint.
Killing predators leads to unintended consequences on impacts on ecosystems, including altering landscapes and contributing to wildfire and the spread of invasive species.
Current science also disputes the effectiveness of lethal predator control methods, including a 2014 study which found killing predators to protect livestock can backfire and increase livestock depredation, according to the complaint.
In 2000, Marin County – located in Wildlife Services’ Sacramento District – redirected funds from lethal to nonlethal predator management such as livestock guard animals, night corrals and fencing. Annual livestock losses decreased from 5% to 2%.
“Marin County’s experience demonstrates that nonlethal wildlife management tools are both effective and affordable, and the proven feasibility of nonlethal methods requires supplemental NEPA analysis,” the wildlife groups claim.
Wildlife Services’ Sacramento District includes Colusa, El Dorado, Lake, Marin, Napa, Placer, Sacramento, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo counties.