Breaking! Court Rules USDA’s Wildlife Services Failed To Thoroughly Assess Risks Of Killing Thousands Of Animals In Idaho

In a powerful rebuke, a federal judge has ruled that a U.S. agency that kills thousands of animals a year in Idaho failed to adequately analyze the environmental risks of shooting, trapping, and poisoning native wildlife like mountain lions, coyotes, and foxes.

The court’s ruling, issued late Friday in a lawsuit brought by conservation groups, found that U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program should have more carefully considered its proposed predator-killing activities’ impacts on the environment. The judge found that the agency had ignored science showing that killing predators does not decrease conflicts with livestock. This controversial killing, according to the ruling, warrants a much more thorough analysis.

Wildlife Services is a controversial program that kills millions of wild animals every year across the country, including wolves, grizzly bears, otters, coyotes, and birds, with almost no oversight or accountability. The program uses antiquated tools, including trapping, snaring, poisoning and aerial gunning, to kill wildlife, usually at the request of the livestock industry.

The conservationists’ lawsuit, filed in May 2017, noted that Wildlife Services wrote itself a broad, statewide authorization to kill Idaho’s native predators, including coyotes and mountain lions, along with ravens and other animals, without taking a hard look at the impacts of its unscientific slaughter. The program never revealed to the public the full potential consequences of its actions, as federal law requires.

The lawsuit, brought by Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and Predator Defense, called for a more complete analysis of the killing plans.

The court agreed. The judge’s 24-page decision goes into stinging detail about the unreliability of Wildlife Services’ own data and the lack of convincing evidence that the program took into account important feedback when it finalized its killing proposals. In criticizing Wildlife Services’ inadequate analysis, the court held “the lack of reliable data infects all the agency’s conclusions.”

“The court pointed out that Wildlife Services ignored critical science on the impacts of wildlife-killing, as well as nearly unanimous critical comments from sister agencies,” Kristin Ruether, senior attorney for Western Watersheds Project said in the statement. “We’re going to keep fighting to stop Wildlife Services from killing our native wildlife in Idaho and across the West.”

Wildlife Services regularly employs dangerous and indiscriminate killing methods, including leg-hold traps and M-44 sodium cyanide bombs, which can and have injured and killed non-target wildlife, threatened and endangered species and family dogs. The program uses millions of taxpayer dollars each year to carry out the killing. A 2013 internal audit revealed that Wildlife Services’ accounting practices lacked transparency and violated state and federal laws.

“This is a big victory for Idaho’s native wildlife and a major rebuke to this trigger-happy federal program,” noted Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Killing predators like foxes and coyotes is ineffective and inhumane. We hope this decision is the beginning of the end for the careless slaughter of Idaho’s animals.”

The case will now proceed to the remedy phase, where the judge will consider solutions to the problems identified in the ruling.

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