Posted by on June 22, 2017
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Categories: Bay Area

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(BANT) – Six conservation groups sued a U.S. Agriculture Department division in federal court in San Francisco Wednesday, seeking a new review of its plans for killing wild animals that threaten human activities.

The groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity claim the agency’s Wildlife Services division is obligated under federal law to conduct a new environmental review for its Northern California program because circumstances have changed since the last study 20 years ago.

“Wildlife Services’ cruel killing practices are ineffective, environmentally harmful and totally out of touch with science,” Center for Biological Diversity attorney Collette Adkins said in a statement.

Wildlife Services, the defendant in the lawsuit, is part of the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The division’s stated purpose is to manage conflicts between wildlife and people, in a way that protects agriculture, people and property while reducing wildlife mortality. The division also contracts with local counties and companies to control wildlife.

Last year, the agency reported that its Wildlife Damage Management Program killed 1.6 million animals nationwide, including coyotes, prairie dogs, foxes, black bears, gray wolves and mountain lions, according to the lawsuit.

Its most recent environmental review of the program in the North District of California is a 1997 environmental assessment that allows the killing of wildlife by means of leg-hold traps, strangulation snares, poisons and shooting from air and land.

The North District includes Butte, Humboldt, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Sierra, Shasta, Siskiyou, Sutter, Trinity and Yuba counties.

The National Environmental Policy Act requires supplemental environmental studies when there are “significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concern.”

The lawsuit claims significant changes in the last two decades include the development of nonlethal ways of controlling wildlife and studies showing that killing predators can be ecologically harmful and may not be the best way to protect commercial livestock.

As “a strong illustration of the advantages and effectiveness associated with nonlethal predator control,” the lawsuit cites Marin County’s 2000 decision to stop contracting with the federal agency and to adopt instead the Marin County Livestock and Wildlife Protection Program.

The local program supports using dogs and llamas as guard animals, fencing, noise and light devices, and compensation to farmers for sheep and cattle losses. The plan was recently found to have reduced livestock losses from 5 percent to 2.2 percent, the lawsuit says.

Wildlife Services began a process for an environmental re-evaluation in 2015, but has not completed it, according to the lawsuit.

The suit asks for a court order requiring the agency to complete a supplemental environmental review for the North District and to halt its existing program until the review is completed.

APHIS spokesman Andre Bell said, “We’re aware of the lawsuit, but we can’t comment on pending litigation.”

The groups suing the agency include the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Project Coyote, Animal Welfare Institute and WildEarth Guardians.