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Government Seeks to Dismiss Guardians' Lawsuit Against Wildlife Services

Feds Claim Citizens Have No Rights to Protest Wildlife Killing

Las Vegas, NV. The federal government recently responded to WildEarth Guardians’ seminal lawsuit against USDA’s Wildife Services, arguing that the public has no standing to object to the agency’s wildlife-killing programs. Government attorneys claimed that the public cannot show harm caused by the death of individual animals, ignoring evidence to the contrary. 

“Each year, Wildlife Services kills millions of our wildlife using outdated, barbaric means, and yet the government claims that wildlife watchers and taxpayers have no ability to seek redress,” said Wendy Keefover, Director of Carnivore Protection for WildEarth Guardians.

The government claims that if Wildlife Services was not in the wildlife-killing business then state programs would simply step in and conduct this work themselves. But this argument is without merit as the federal government primarily funds killing programs and serves a role that states likely cannot fill.

WildEarth Guardians sued the federal agency for failing to update its 18 year-old programmatic environmental review of its wildlife-eradication programs in violation of federal law. Incorporating new data on the cost, efficacy and efficiency of these programs would reveal them to be ineffective, unnecessary, environmentally devastating, and a waste of tax dollars. 

Perhaps the most controversial Wildlife Services’ program involves controlling carnivores to protect domestic livestocks’ grazing, including on public lands. In fact, few wildlife species such as coyotes, wolves, and cougars actually kill cattle, while more than 95 percent of unintended livestock deaths stem from respiratory problems, disease and illness, birthing problems, poisoning, and theft.

“Only a tiny proportion of livestock are killed by carnivores, even according to the USDA, but the Department seems to have cognitive dissonance when it comes to this issue. It would rather perpetuate predation myths than prescribe non-lethal livestock management for livestock growers,” said Keefover. 

Guardians’ lawsuit also challenges Wildlife Services’ use of planes and helicopters to track and kill coyotes and wolves in Congressionally designated wilderness areas in violation of the Wilderness Act. The government’s brief argues that “the Wilderness Act expressly provides for ‘the grazing of livestock’ . . . [and that] [p]redator damage management activities are a key part of a livestock grazing program,” and that it can use helicopters, airplanes, and other motorized vehicles to kill wildlife to protect nonnative cattle and sheep as necessary.

“Most Americans agree that a pack of wolves or coyotes far outweighs the life of one cow in a wilderness area,” Keefover added. “And the ecological value of wolves and coyotes is inversely proportional to the amount of damage livestock cause in wilderness areas.”

The government further claimed that federal wildlife killing in Nevada only occurs on “an average of less than 6.8 million acres per month—an amount compromising only about 10% of Nevada’s land area.” But Guardians issued a report this summer, The Deadliest Dozen Counties in the American West: Mapping Wildlife Services’ Killing Fields, showing that, in fact, three Nevadan counties are among the deadliest for native carnivores in the West, including Elko County, Nevada, which is ranked in the first position as deadliest county in the West. Of all the western states, Nevada ranks fifth, while Montana and Wyoming are the deadliest.

“Wildlife Services’ excessive killing has no real benefit, even to the massive agricultural industry it purports to support. We hope the court agrees with us and compels the agency to examine its operations,” said Keefover.

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