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Wildlife Services' Wildlife Killing Program Dealt Blow By Federal Appeals Court

Ninth Circuit Rules Program Can't Hide Behind 20 Year Old Analysis

San Francisco — Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Wildlife Services’, the federal wildlife killing program, reliance on a twenty year old analysis, which itself relies on forty year old science, is not immune from environmental review. The court held conservationists are injured by the program’s wildlife killing activities and can challenge them in court.

“For decades Wildlife Services has operated in the shadows as though it were above the law,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “It is high time the true environmental costs of this rogue program’s cruel wildlife killing activities are exposed.”

In 2014, Wildlife Services killed over two million native animals using taxpayer dollars. 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 and domestic companion animals have fallen victim to Wildlife Services’ devices.

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 a 1994 Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) was a sufficient analysis of its current activities, even though the PEIS relies on outdated and largely disproven “science” from the 1970s and 1980s. In contrast, NEPA review is designed to ensure all environmental impacts are analyzed and that the public has an opportunity to comment, and therefore influence, activities conducted using public funds.

In addition to Wildlife Services’ refusal to conduct an analysis taking into account current science, the program also argued its wildlife killing activities are immune from oversight because the State of Nevada might conduct similar activities if Wildlife Services were prohibited from doing so. Wildlife Services also claimed Guardians did not have “standing” to challenge the killing program. The court resoundingly rejected both arguments, finding that Guardians’ interests are injured by the program’s activities and that regardless of whether State of Nevada might engage in similar activities, Guardians can challenge Wildlife Services’ actions.

“Wildlife Services’ refusal to ensure its activities are based on the best available science further endangers already imperiled species, puts people and companion animals at risk, and wastes our taxpayer dollars,” said Cotton. “We call on Wildlife Services to immediately conduct a thorough analysis of the impacts of its activities, in Nevada and nationally.”

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling means the challenge will now proceed on the merits in federal district court in Nevada. Today’s ruling is available here.


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