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Lawsuit targets federal wildlife-killing program on Nevada public lands

Updated December 13, 2021 - 4:13 pm

RENO – Two conservation groups are challenging how the federal government culls and controls predatory wildlife on Nevada’s public lands, claiming in a lawsuit that an agency’s 2020 “no-impact” environmental assessment of the program is flawed.

WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nevada Wildlife Services in U.S. District Court in Reno last week, alleging that the agency’s analysis of the program “is deficient in multiple respects.”

In a statement Monday, the groups cited the “indiscriminate killing of native carnivores and other wildlife” that poses “a slew of negative impacts that warrant a much harder look from the government.”

The lawsuit responds to the agency’s July 2020 determination that its “predator damage management” program, involving aerial shooting, trapping, and poisoning of native wildlife, posed no “significant” environmental impacts. The lawsuit faults Wildlife Services and other federal land management agencies for not seeking non-lethal ways to manage wildlife.

Wildlife Services “continues to rely on antiquated practices in the name of ‘managing’ conflicts with wildlife” and “continually ignores the science about the efficacy of lethal management as well as the serious environmental impacts of its killing program,” Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement.

The lawsuit challenges Wildlife Services’ expansion of aerial gunning, poisoning, trapping and shooting of animals including foxes, bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions, beavers, badgers, rabbits, ravens and other wildlife on public land in Nevada, including across six million acres of wilderness lands.

A call seeking comment from Wildlife Services was not immediately returned Monday.

Citing Wildlife Services’ reports, the conservation groups cited the killing of 29 mountain lions, five foxes, two black bears, one bobcat, nearly 2,500 ravens and 3,700 coyotes by the agency in Nevada in 2020. Roughly two-thirds of the coyotes were shot from the air, with others killed with neck snares, foothold traps, or spring-loaded cyanide capsules.

Over the past five years, some 15,000 coyotes were killed on federally managed land in Nevada, “mostly at the behest of private livestock operators,” according to the conservation groups. Neither the Bureau of Land Management nor the U.S. Forest Service, also named in the lawsuit, provide frameworks for managing wildlife-livestock conflicts. Nor do they weigh the “negative ecological consequences” of killing wildlife to protect livestock, the groups said.

The groups said similar litigation against Wildlife Services has led to legal victories and settlements in Idaho, Wyoming, California, Oregon, Montana, and Washington, as well as a previous win in Nevada, that curb the wildlife kills and improve the agency’s accountability.

The case was assigned to Senior U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks in Reno.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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