CARSON CITY — A federal appeals court on Monday revived a lawsuit filed by a wildlife conservation group challenging federal predator control practices in Nevada that include killing coyotes and poisoning ravens.
A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with WildEarth Guardians, which argued that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through its Wildlife Services program, relied on outdated information and should have prepared a Nevada-specific environmental impact statement in 2011 before continuing the program.
The ruling, written by Judge Michelle T. Friedland, reversed an earlier dismissal of the case by U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Las Vegas and ordered further proceedings in the lower court.
In its lawsuit, WildEarth Guardians sought to enjoin the federal government from killing predatory animals in Nevada, arguing that the agency’s reliance on outdated data and science when it continued the program four years ago interferes with its members’ enjoyment of the outdoors.
The Nevada Wildlife Service Program, a joint operation between the federal agency and the state Department of Wildlife, has been conducting predator control for decades, with significant funding and staffing being provided by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
In 2011, the agency issued an environmental assessment that incorporated earlier findings contained in a nationwide programmatic environmental impact statement conducted in 1994 and revised in 1997. The most recent assessment concluded that continuing the federal-state predatory program in Nevada would have no significant environmental impacts and no Nevada-specific environmental impact statement was ordered.
But WildEarth Guardians argued the data, science and analysis used in the earlier impact statement were based on decades-old studies that have since been challenged by more recent research and that an impact statement was required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The suit included a declaration by Donald Molde, a Reno-area wildlife advocate, who argued that the predator control program infringes on his recreational and aesthetic enjoyment of Nevada’s backcountry.
“I think the case basically challenges the adequacy of the NEPA information that Wildlife Services is using to conduct its activities,” Molde said when contacted Monday by telephone. “There are a lot of things Wildlife Services does that are just not very acceptable to the public’s taste anymore.”
Government lawyers countered that even if federal participation was curtailed, Nevada, through the Department of Wildlife, would continue the program.
But the appeals court said the extent of a state-run-only program was speculative.
“Nevada might adopt practices that would be less harmful to WildEarth’s interests, or it might devote less funding to predator damage management than (the federal agency) currently provides,” the court said.
The opinion noted that the 2011 Nevada environmental assessment found that, “at a minimum, a Nevada-run program likely would greatly reduce aerial hunting and the killing of ravens, both of which would partially redress Molde’s injuries.”
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