Environmental Groups Sue Federal Agencies for Predatory Animal Management Methods

Environmental groups WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project have sued several federal agencies over the conduct of the Nevada Wildlife Services for its “cruel and often archaic methods to capture and kill wildlife from their native ecosystems,” which has allegedly unintentionally killed and injured a multitude of other animals including endangered or threatened species and family pets.

The plaintiffs filed a complaint in the District of Nevada on Thursday against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services (Wildlife Services), the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management for their methods to capture and kill wild predatory animals, including “wolves, bears, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions.”

According to the complaint, these animals are “poisoned, trapped and gunned down by Wildlife Services.” WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project assert that in Nevada, Wildlife Services “uses fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to aerially shoot coyotes; body-gripping traps, neck snares and leghold traps to kill mountain lions, black bears,” and other animals, “gas cartridges and poisons to exterminate coyotes in their dens; M-44 devices (also known as ‘sodium cyanide bombs’) to kill canines like foxes and coyotes; and other poisons to annually eliminate thousands of native birds like ravens.” However, according to the plaintiffs, this conduct has also unintentionally killed 2,700 non-target animals and birds nationally in 2020, including federally-protected endangered or threatened species and family pets.

The plaintiffs challenge Nevada Wildlife Services’ July 2020 Final Environmental Assessment: Predator Damage Management in Nevada and other related filings, which gives the NV-Wildlife Services the authority to continue and expand these practices across the state. The plaintiffs state that the NV-Wildlife Services does not have to fully disclose or properly analyze the environmental impact through these documents in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The plaintiffs claim that there is increasing scientific evidence challenging the effectiveness of these predatory management practices, highlighting the environmental impact. However, the plaintiffs proffer that the NV-Wildlife Services has not prepared “a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (‘EIS’) disclosing the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of its Nevada ‘predator damage management’ activities, as required by NEPA.” The plaintiffs note that a thorough EIS is required to analyze the impact of resuming or expanding the program within designated Wilderness Areas or Wilderness Study Areas.

WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project claim that the predatory management program is to protect private agriculture interests, such as protecting the loss of livestock. The plaintiffs allege that the Bureau of Land Management has violated the Wilderness Act by allowing commercial enterprise within the designated Wilderness Areas, while failing to show that the predatory animal management is necessary, among other requirements. The plaintiffs claim similar allegations against the U.S. Forest Service as well as the Bureau for allowing the NV-Wildlife Services to “annually kill native wildlife on federal public lands” without an adequate legally mandated analysis. Furthermore, the NV-Wildlife Services also purportedly exceeds its authority under the Animal Damage Control Act for these practices.

The five claims for relief include: failure to prepare and EIs as required by NEPA, failure to take the required “hard look” under NEPA, NEPA violations regarding the annual work plans, violations of the Wilderness Act, and the expanded predator killing is ultra vires.

WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project seek for the court to reverse, vacate and set aside the NV-Wildlife Service’s 2020 Final Environmental Assessment and the Forest Service’s and Bureau’s work plans. The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment and for the court to enjoin the NV-Wildlife Services from conducting these aforementioned activities on the applicable federal lands unless and until the defendants have complied with federal law, among other relief.

The plaintiffs are represented by Cavanaugh-Bill Law Offices, LLC and counsel from WildEarth Guardians.