Five Environmental Groups Sue USDA Over Idaho Wolf-Killing Program

(EnviroNews Idaho) — Boise, Idaho — On June 1, 2016, five prominent environmental organizations filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services for killing over 650 wolves in the state of Idaho over the past decade. Wildlife Services is an ancillary program under USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

The groups contend the Agency killed at least 72 wolves in the Gem States last year alone, and say the USDA’s most recent environmental impact assessment from 2011 is “woefully outdated.”

WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Clearwater, and Predator Defense — are represented by attorneys from Western Watersheds Project and Advocates for the West in the case.

The plaintiffs also say scientists have made significant breakthroughs in recent years in understanding how wolves function within their ecosystems, and therefore declare a moratorium should be placed on the Agency’s wolf control program until it can perform an adequate environmental impact statement (EIS) — a legally required report detailing how its wolf-control activities affect the environment at large.

The coalition of six pulled no punches, stating in a press release titled USDA’s Wildlife Services Has Killed Hundreds of Idaho Wolves, “Wildlife Services does most of its wolf-killing at the behest of the livestock industry, following reports of livestock depredation. The Agency killed at least 72 wolves in Idaho last year, using methods including foothold traps, wire snares that strangle wolves, and aerial gunning from helicopters. The Agency has used aerial gunning in central Idaho’s ‘Lolo Zone’ for several years in a row — using planes or helicopters to run wolves to exhaustion before shooting them from the air, often leaving them wounded to die slow, painful deaths.”

“Wildlife Service’s wolf-killing program is senseless, cruel, and impoverishes our wild country,” said Travis Bruner of Western Watersheds Project. “Killing wolves for private livestock interests is wrong, especially on public lands, where wildlife deserves to come first. In addition, new science shows that it does not reduce conflicts long-term.”

At this hour, Wildlife Services has still not made a statement to the public or the press regarding the filing, and is already taking heavy fire over the program as news breaks of the lawsuit.

Predator Defense called Wildlife Service’s program “scientifically egregious,” and in a statement on its website pointed out that more wolves are killed in Idaho than any of the other lower 48 states. “Idaho has become the national poster child for wolf-killing,” the statement continued.

“It is long past time that we base wildlife management decisions on the best available science — not on antiquated, disproven anti-wolf rhetoric,” said Bethany Cotton, Wildlife Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “Wildlife Services needs to come out of the shadows, update its analyses and adopt practices in keeping with modern science and values about the ethical treatment of animals.”

In addition to killing wolves to accommodate farmers and ranchers, Wildlife Services also kills the creatures in Idaho’s Lolo Zone for what it says are elk management purposes — a notion the six groups call preposterous.

“The campaign waged against the Lolo’s native wolves in the name of elk is reprehensible. Science shows that the elk decline there is due to long-term, natural-habitat changes, not impacts from wolves,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater. “It is particularly galling that Wildlife Services is targeting wolves that mostly live in Wildernesses or large roadless areas. These, especially, are places where wolves should be left alone.”

In another similar lawsuit, several of the same organizations are jointly suing the USDA, Wildlife Services, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for killing unreasonably high numbers of wild animals in the state of Idaho and for failing to perform an appropriate environmental impact assessment — again. That complaint says killing exorbitant numbers of wild animals each year in the Gem State violates environmental laws — namely the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and asserts, “Wildlife Services spends millions of dollars and thousands of person-hours to kill thousands of wolves, coyotes, foxes, beavers, cougars, birds, and other wildlife species across Idaho each year, using aerial and ground shooting, poisons, traps, explosives, and other methods.” The complaint continues, “Wildlife Services has never prepared an EIS to assess its wildlife damage management activities in Idaho, which largely consist of killing wildlife. Additionally, in recent years, wildlife researchers have published numerous studies finding that Wildlife Services’ methods of wildlife killing do not produce the intended consequences—and instead produce many unintended consequences.”

Two of the groups suing this time, WildEarth Guardians and Centers for Biological Diversity, are in and of themselves, responsible for USFWS moving forward toward protection on over 800 American wildlife species, following another behemoth decade-long lawsuit against the Service, whereafter it was forced to carry out protective duties under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The gray wolf was taken off the ESA in April of 2011, and according to Predator Defense, “over 4,200 wolves were slaughtered in just five states,” since the delisting.

According to Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), the Gem State has 786 wolves in all. IDFG reports that in 2015, at least 358 wolves died — 75 from control methods, 256 from hunting and trapping, 21 from human interactions including 14 illegal killings, and six from either natural or unknown causes.

“Wildlife Services, formerly called Animal Damage Control, has been criticized for over fifty years by some of our nation’s leading predator biologists. It has a long, documented history of violating state and federal laws, and even its own directives,” said Brooks Fahy, Executive Director of Predator Defense. “Idahoans and the American public deserve a guarantee that federal programs like Wildlife Services are using the most up-to-date scientific information available.”