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MISSOULA, MT, Oct. 10, 2016 – A federal court approved a groundbreaking settlement agreement between WildEarth Guardians and the federal wildlife killing program, Wildlife Services, late last week. The settlement comes over a year after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed that WildEarth Guardians’ interests are injured by the program’s activities and the organization may challenge them in court. Under the settlement, Wildlife Services will conduct new environmental analyses in Nevada and across the nation, cease reliance on an old, largely debunked analysis and end killing activities on certain public lands.
“This agreement means Wildlife Services can no longer rely on disproven ‘science’ to justify its cruel and ecologically unsound killing practices,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “We call on the program to use this opportunity to accept the clear science demonstrating that lethal control of native wildlife is ineffective and often counterproductive, and to adopt a coexistence mandate.”
In August 2015, the Ninth Circuit held the program’s reliance on a twenty year old analysis, which itself relies on outdated and largely disproven decades old science, was not immune from environmental review. The settlement requires the program to no longer rely on the outdated 22-year-old Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). The program will conduct a new environmental analysis of its activities in Nevada, and will update all analyses nationwide that rely on the 1994 PEIS. The program will also cease all killing activities in designated Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas in Nevada — over six million acres of public lands — at least until the new analysis is complete.
“Our settlement ends killing on six million acres of our public lands in Nevada unless and until a modern environmental assessment occurs and ensures that Wildlife Services will update its analysis of the impacts of its killing activities across the country,” said Sarah McMillan, senior attorney for WildEarth Guardians. “The public has a right to be informed of and weigh in on the use of taxpayer dollars to kill native wildlife, and the program has a responsibility to ensure ethical and scientific standards are met by federal employees.”
Wildlife Services killed over 1.6 million native animals in 2015 alone. The program, under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), uses a variety of cruel and inhumane tactics to kill wildlife including trapping, aerial gunning and poisoning. Many of these methods cannot discriminate amongst species; meaning non-target animals are at serious risk. Both non-target wildlife species, including threatened and endangered animals, and domestic companion animals have fallen victim to Wildlife Services’ devices.
WildEarth Guardians and other conservation organizations are challenging the program’s failure to adhere to modern science and humane practices for the treatment of wildlife. In December 2015, a federal court faulted the program for failing to adequately analyze the impacts of its wolf killing activities in Washington state. Numerous additional cases are currently pending challenging the program’s wildlife killing activities across the West.
In 2012, WildEarth Guardians challenged Wildlife Services’ refusal to analyze the impacts of its wildlife killing activities in Nevada as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The program instead insisted that its 1994 PEIS was a sufficient analysis of its current activities, even though the PEIS relies on outdated and largely disproven ‘science’ from the 1970s and 1980s, with some cited studies dating back to the 1930s. NEPA review is designed to ensure all environmental impacts are analyzed and that the public has an opportunity to comment on, and therefore influence, activities conducted using public funds. The law is designed to take into account current conditions and the best available science, which is impossible when the government relies on severely outdated analysis and science.
In addition to Wildlife Services’ refusal to conduct an analysis taking into account current science, the program also argued its wildlife killing activities were immune from oversight because the State of Nevada might conduct similar activities if Wildlife Services were prohibited from doing so. In March 2013, the Federal District Court for the District of Nevada granted Wildlife Services’ motion to dismiss in part. Guardians appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In August 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals resoundingly rejected this argument, finding that WildEarth Guardians’ interests are injured by the program’s activities and that regardless of whether the State of Nevada could engage in similar activities, Wildlife Services is accountable for its own actions. The Ninth Circuit sent the case back to the Nevada district court, at which point WildEarth Guardians and Wildlife Services entered settlement negotiations resulting in this agreement.