A panel of federal appellate judges on Tuesday reinstated a lawsuit filed in 2016 by five conservation groups who are challenging how government employees target predators, including killing wolves.
With the ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a federal judge in Idaho, who had dismissed the suit brought by a group of conservation groups, including the Western Watershed Project and the Center for Biological Diversity.
The opinion does not mean that the conservation groups’ lawsuit prevails, only that they will get another day in court in front of U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge.
The suit challenged how employees within Wildlife Services, which is an office under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, analyzed what the conservation groups called the environmental harm caused by its campaign to kill Idaho wolves.
“Wildlife Services’ barbaric mismanagement of wildlife needs to catch up with modern science,” Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a news release. “The agency hasn’t considered the effects of its wolf killing campaign in Idaho since before wolves lost federal protections in 2011. Since then, scientists have shown that killing wolves does nothing to prevent livestock losses.”
As part of its decision, 9th Circuit judges wrote that the “panel held that the proper inquiry was whether plaintiffs had shown that halting Wildlife Services’ wolf-killing activities pending additional NEPA analysis could protect their aesthetic and recreational interests in gray wolves in Idaho. The panel held that plaintiffs had shown this.”
According to the groups’ news release, Wildlife Services killed 1.3 million animals nationwide in 2017 alone.
“With the new decision, we can return to the heart of the matter: whether or not Wildlife Services adequately reviewed the ecological consequences of killing scores of wolves each year in Idaho,” Talasi Brooks, attorney with Western Watersheds Project, said in the news release.
After years of failed attempts, Congress in 2011 issued a directive to delist the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act.
Since that delisting, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has maintained responsibility for managing gray wolves in Idaho with the number of wolves killed a year ranging from 200 to 356 since 2011, according to the suit.
When sport hunting fails to meet the department’s goals, state officials sometimes request help from Wildlife Services, which has killed between 42 and 80 wolves a year between 2011 and 2015.
“During that time, Wildlife Services also killed between zero and 23 wolves per year to protect ungulates in Idaho’s Lolo elk zone … sometimes removing entire packs in one strike” by shooting them from the air, the opinion states.
The conservation groups filed the lawsuit seeking to compel federal and state employees to use new analysis that would consider the impacts of the federal wolf-killing program. They noted that state wildlife managers no longer rely on radio collar data to monitor wolf populations, instead they are using hair snag surveys and camera traps.
“This lawsuit is all about dispelling the myths and propaganda about the ‘big, bad wolf’ and getting federal agencies to acknowledge the overwhelming scientific evidence that killing wolves to reduce livestock losses or increase populations of hunted wildlife is cruel, pointless and doesn’t work,” Brooks said in the news release.
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