Environmental groups sue predator control agency in Idaho

AP News
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Posted: Feb 13, 2015 5:56 PM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Five conservation groups that contend federal officials in Idaho are violating environmental laws by killing wolves, coyotes and other wildlife to protect livestock and crops have filed a federal lawsuit.

The Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project and four other groups filed the 40-page lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court against the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The lawsuit seeks to have Wildlife Services adopt nonlethal methods and replace existing studies with a more rigorous and time-consuming Environmental Impact Statement to better understand the effects of the agency's killing of wildlife, which the groups say could be harming federally protected grizzly bears, Canada lynx and bull trout.

"Without a comprehensive analysis of Wildlife Service's wildlife-killing activities across the state, it's impossible to know whether it's leading to widespread damage to other species like grizzly bears," Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

The lawsuit notes that the federal agency in 2013 killed more than 200,000 animals, much of that number representing the killing of birds that can pose problems on cattle feedlots or dairies. The agency in 2013 also killed 2,739 coyotes and 79 wolves.

Wyn Hornbuckle, a deputy director with the U.S. Department of Justice, said Friday that the federal agency was reviewing the lawsuit and had no comment.

Stan Boyd, executive director of the Idaho Wool Growers Association, said Wildlife Services plays an important role in the state and members of the association are always advised to call the federal agency if they have problems with wildlife.

"If you did away with Wildlife Services, I guarantee you people would not stand by and let their property be destroyed," Boyd said Friday. "They'd try to do it themselves. That's when things really get messy."

Specifically, the lawsuit contends that Wildlife Services is violating the National Environmental Policy Act by not analyzing sufficiently its activities and disclosing its work to the public.

The lawsuit said the agency has never prepared an Environmental Impact Statement to assess wildlife damage management in Idaho, but instead has relied on an outdated model that the groups say runs contrary to modern understanding of the effects of killing wildlife. That includes, the groups said, a better understanding of the role of carnivores in ecosystems and the harm caused by removing them.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is named in the lawsuit because the groups say that agency is failing in its responsibility when it comes to enforcing protections required by the Endangered Species Act. The groups say Fish and Wildlife is illegally allowing Wildlife Services to carry out its operations without fully understanding the consequences.

The lawsuit notes that of the four Canada lynx sighted in the state in recent years, three were accidentally caught in traps.

When it comes to protected bull trout, the lawsuit said Wildlife Services has removed 104 beaver dams in the past five years, with at least 54 of them in bull trout habitat. The lawsuit noted the federal agency has killed more than 420 beavers in Idaho since 2006.

The lawsuit also contained a photo taken by a Wildlife Service employee in 2012 showing his dogs attacking a coyote caught in a leg-hold trap. The lawsuit said the same employee failed to check traps for up to 69 days at a time, leaving trapped animals to a slow death. The lawsuit said the federal agency didn't fire or discipline the employee.