The Center for Biological Diversity has furthered its campaign against USDA’s Wildlife Services by suing to block the agency from killing mammals in Washington.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Seattle, seeks to halt the lethal control of animals such as bears, bobcats, beavers and coyotes until the agency reassesses the environmental consequences.
Wildlife Services is operating under an outdated 1997 assessment, said Sophia Ressler, an attorney for the center. “We’re just asking for a pause until an updated environmental assessment is done,” she said.
The suit is the latest in a series of court actions brought by conservation groups against Wildlife Services in the West. Most suits have had a narrower focus, targeting specific tactics, species or regions.
Wildlife Services reported euthanizing more than 2.6 million animals nationwide in the most recent federal fiscal year. Efforts to reach the agency for comment were unsuccessful.
In Washington, the agency reported killing 116,433 mammals, birds and fish in fiscal year 2018. Starlings, pigeons and crows were among the most commonly killed creatures. Other mammals killed by the agency included porcupines, raccoons and wild pigs.
The lawsuit does not seek to curb lethal control by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife or ranchers. Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen said the federal agency, however, is better at it.
“They’re effective and that’s why we like them and they (environmental groups) don’t,” he said. “It’s damaging to us if Wildlife Services can’t do it. And from the environmental groups’ point of view, it’s smart to go after them.”
Fish and Wildlife, the state agency, rarely removes nuisance wildlife, according to a spokeswoman. Fish and Wildlife refers calls from the public to Wildlife Services or another animal-control agency.
Fish and Wildlife will remove deer or elk causing crop damage. The department also removes bears and cougars that threaten the public, according to the spokeswoman.
Conservation groups won a lawsuit in 2015 to prevent Wildlife Services from shooting wolves in Washington. Since then, Fish and Wildlife has had to handle the job.
The new suit seeks to broaden the prohibition to all mammals, though not birds or fish. The suit claims Wildlife Services’ tactics are environmentally destructive and cruel.
The agency reported that 49% of the time it euthanized animals in Washington was to protect property. Another 38% was to protect agriculture. The agency also removed animals for safety and to prevent damage to natural resources.
Two other conservation groups, the Western Watersheds Project and Advocates for the West, are suing Wildlife Services to bar the agency from shooting wolves in Idaho.
The case was initially dismissed in district court. The judge ruled the lawsuit was pointless because the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, hunters and ranchers can kill wolves, with or without Wildlife Services.
A three-judge panel by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and ordered the district court to take up the case. The appeals court ruled that the killing of wolves harmed people who enjoyed trying to find them in the wild.
Wildlife Services and the conservation groups are discussing a settlement.
The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups lost a suit to block Wildlife Services from shooting wolves in Oregon. That case went before a different three-judge panel at the 9th circuit.
In response to a lawsuit, Wildlife Services agreed in 2017 to stop using body-gripping traps, glue traps or spring-powered harpoon traps in wilderness areas in 10 Northern California counties.
In August, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a similar lawsuit against Wildlife Services activities in 10 Central California counties. That lawsuit is pending.