A little-known federal agency that kills more than a million native animals every year, including cougars, eagles, grizzly bears, and wolves, will sharply limit its activities in Montana under a lawsuit settlement announced Thursday.
Wildlife Services, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, agreed to forego all operations in the state’s federally designated wilderness, wild and scenic river corridors, and Areas of Critical Environmental Concern.
The agency also agreed to cease the killing of black bears and coyotes on federal public lands throughout the state, to stop using poisons or gas cartridges to kill denning animals and their young on all public lands in Montana, and to forego statewide the use of sodium cyanide bombs as a tool of wildlife destruction.
WildEarth Guardians sued Wildlife Services last November, arguing that the agency has violated the National Environmental Policy Act by continuing to rely on a study of environmental consequences that is more than two decades old.
NEPA requires an agency to give a “hard look” to the environmental consequences of its actions even if it previously did so. The federal appeals court with jurisdiction over cases from Montana has explained that the existence of “significant new circumstances or information” triggers a requirement to prepare a new environmental impact statement or environmental assessment.
WildEarth Guardians argued that Wildlife Services has not met this requirement. It asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana to order the agency to prepare an environmental impact statement after considering studies from the past several decades suggesting that predator control is an ineffective method of managing wildlife populations.
The United States government intentionally destroys a large number of animals each year. During Fiscal Year 2018, Wildlife Services personnel killed at least 22,655 beavers, 338 black bears, 1,002 bobcats, 68,186 coyotes plus an unknown number of coyote pups in dens, 3,349 foxes plus an unknown number of fox pups killed in dens, 357 gray wolves, 375 mountain lions, 515,915 red-winged blackbirds, 710 river otters, and 7,264 white-tailed deer.
The obscure agency also unintentionally kills many more thousands of other animals. In FY 2018, they included at least 2,700 bears, bobcats, foxes, marmots, muskrats, porcupines, raccoons, and turtles.
Wildlife Services’ annual kill also takes the lives of many birds, including numerous chickadees, cardinals, crows, doves, ducks, eagles, egrets, falcons, geese, grackles, gulls, hawks, herons, larks, meadowlarks, owls, pelicans, ravens, robins, sparrows, starlings, swallows, swans, turkeys, and vultures.