SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity, Animal Legal Defense Fund and Project Coyote today sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program over its outdated wildlife-killing plan for 10 counties in Northern California.
The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco federal court, seeks an updated environmental analysis of the program, which kills thousands of the state’s native animals. The program targets carnivores like coyotes and foxes that are important for balanced ecosystems.
“Wildlife Services’ cruel killing practices are ineffective, inhumane and totally out of touch with science,” said Collette Adkins, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney representing the conservation groups involved in the lawsuit. “Nonlethal methods of addressing wildlife conflicts are proven to work. We’re suing the agency to force a closer look at alternatives to its damaging mass-extermination program.”
Today’s lawsuit targets Wildlife Services’ Sacramento District program. The district includes Colusa, El Dorado, Lake, Marin, Napa, Placer, Sacramento, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo counties.
Wildlife Services is a multimillion-dollar federal program that uses painful leghold traps, strangulation snares, poisons, aerial gunning, killing pups in their dens and other inhumane practices to kill wild animals including wolves, coyotes, bears, cougars and birds. Most of the killing is done in response to requests from the agriculture industry.
In 2018 Wildlife Services reported killing nearly 1.5 million native animals nationwide. That year in California, the program reported killing 26,441 native animals, including 3,826 coyotes, 859 beavers, 170 foxes, 83 mountain lions and 105 black bears. The 5,675 birds killed in 2018 in California included ducks, egrets, hawks, owls and doves.
Pets and protected wildlife like gray wolves, San Joaquin kit foxes, California condors and eagles are also at risk of being killed accidentally due to the program’s indiscriminate methods.
“Wild animals in California are entitled to legal protection from cruel, indiscriminate killing methods that fail to meaningfully reduce conflicts between wild and domestic animals,” said Stephen Wells, executive director for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Wildlife Services must update its practices to reflect current science that supports non-lethal approaches to minimizing conflicts.”
“For far too long Wildlife Services has been running roughshod over our nation’s wildlife with almost no accountability and with very little transparency,” said Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote. “It’s time for a full accounting of this agency’s impact on the environment and on target and non-target animals. Slaughtering thousands of wild animals at the behest of ranchers when there are more effective and humane methods of protecting livestock is irresponsible and reprehensible.”
The National Environmental Policy Act requires Wildlife Services to rigorously examine the environmental effects of killing wildlife and to consider alternatives, such as those that rely on proven nonlethal methods to avoid wildlife conflicts.
The Sacramento District’s existing environmental analysis is more than 20 years old. The complaint filed today says Wildlife Services must use recent information to analyze its impacts on the environment and California’s unique wild places.
In response to a 2017 lawsuit filed by wildlife advocacy groups, Wildlife Services agreed to implement numerous protections for wildlife in its North District, including a ban on traps and aerial gunning in designated wilderness areas.
That successful lawsuit covered Butte, Del Norte, Glenn, Humboldt, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity and Yuba counties.
Last year Siskiyou County agreed to reexamine its contract with Wildlife Services amid pressure from the animal-protection and conservation coalition, while Shasta County cancelled its contract with Wildlife Services. In 2017 a California court ruled in favor of the coalition, finding that Monterey County must conduct an environmental review before renewing its contract with Wildlife Services. In 2000 Marin County severed its contract with Wildlife Services after public outcry over the use of deadly poisons.