Groups Threaten to Sue Wildlife Services
Groups threaten to sue Wildlife Services
Federal agency kills coyotes, beavers, bears and bobcats
By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer
Four conservation organizations, including the Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project, say they intend to file a lawsuit to halt Idaho Wildlife Services’ killing of predators deemed a threat to livestock unless the agency updates its environmental analyses. The groups also question the agency’s efforts to destroy beaver dams.
In 2013, Wildlife Services, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, targeted 21 species of animals and birds in Idaho. Its death toll throughout the state included 2,773 coyotes and 78 wolves.
The environmental groups claim that the agency’s programs are based on outdated environmental analyses and violate the Endangered Species Act by failing to protect bull trout, grizzly bear and lynx.
“Native carnivores and beavers are key parts of healthy, thriving ecosystems,” said Drew Kerr, carnivore advocate for Tucson, Ariz.,-based WildEarth Guardians. “Wildlife Services needs to join the 21st century and follow the best available science to ensure its activities don’t further damage Idaho’s ecosystems.”
In a news release issued Sept. 8, Advocates for the West, a nonprofit environmental law firm in Boise, stated that it had notified state Wildlife Services Director Todd Grimm of its intent to sue in accordance with a 60-day notice requirement of the Endangered Species Act.
The firm stated that it was representing Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Clearwater.
“Idaho Wildlife Service’s NEPA documents require immediate supplementation because a wealth of new information on myriad aspects of wildlife damage management shows that Wildlife Services’ ongoing actions are affecting the quality of the human environment in a significant manner and to a significant extent not already considered,” stated Advocates for the West attorney Kristin Reuther in a Sept. 8 letter to Grimm. “Additionally, numerous components of the program are simply not analyzed at all in the existing NEPA documents, and require completion of an initial NEPA analysis.”
Among the latter, Reuther stated, are programs to trap beavers and detonate or hand-breach beaver dams.
“An updated analysis must include analysis of the beneficial impacts of beavers to ecosystems and many species including listed salmonids,” the letter states.
The groups also contend that an environmental analysis of Wildlife Services’ activities should address new research on the efficacy of nonlethal predator deterrents such as livestock husbandry and barrier and scaring devices such as noisemakers and fladry. Those methods have been used successfully to protect sheep from wolf predation in the Wood River Valley.
In addition to its claims regarding environmental analyses required by the National Environmental Policy Act, the groups’ statement of intent to sue also addresses obligations under the Endangered Species Act. The act requires federal agencies to avoid harming endangered or threatened species by basing their programs on “the best scientific and commercial data available.”
On July 1, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion and incidental take statements for bull trout, grizzly bears, lynx and wolverines, though wolverines have since been removed from the candidate list. The four conservation groups contend that the analysis is flawed for various reasons, including that it ignores numerous interrelated actions and cumulative effects, such as the impact of beaver dam removal on bull trout habitat and the impacts of private trapping on lynx and grizzly bears. They contend that by relying on that analysis, Wildlife Services has failed to ensure that its actions are not likely to jeopardize the recovery of those species.
To avoid litigation, the groups stated, Wildlife Services should cease its Idaho predator damage management operations until it conducts up-to-date NEPA analyses, and cease its beaver dam elimination and wildlife trapping programs until a new ESA consultation is completed.
Wildlife Services Director Grimm could not be reached for comment on the groups’ contentions by press deadline Tuesday.
In 2012, WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit against Wildlife Services for allegedly failing to conduct adequate environmental analysis of its activities in Nevada, though it did not address issues regarding the Endangered Species Act. That suit was dismissed for lack of standing, and has been appealed to the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In an interview, Reuther said the current statement of intent to sue involves different facts and legal points.
“We feel confident that our clients do have standing,” she said.
During fiscal year 2013 nationwide, Wildlife Services reported killing 75,326 coyotes, 24,390 beavers, 3,706 foxes, 11,698 raccoons, 876 bobcats, 419 black bears, 345 cougars and 321 wolves.
The most recent reports by the National Agricultural Statistics Service for cattle (2011) and sheep and goats (2010) indicate predation on about 450,000 head of livestock annually, resulting in combined losses of about $119 million.
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