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Lawsuit Targets Wildlife-killing Program in Montana

November 19, 2019
Sarah McMillan, (406) 549-3895, smcmillan@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Public Lands, Wildlife  
MISSOULA, Montana— WildEarth Guardians sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services today over its outdated wildlife-killing program for Montana.  Wildlife Services – which kills thousands of the state’s native animals every year – has not considered the environmental impacts of its “predator damage control” program since the mid-1990s, despite new, relevant information about the impact that this indiscriminate killing has on ecosystems as well as the ineffectiveness of such lethal management.

The lawsuit, filed in Missoula federal district court, seeks an updated environmental analysis of the program, and for the agency to halt or curtail its killing program until such a complete analysis is performed.  Over the course of the past three years, in Montana alone, Wildlife Services has reported killing 152 wolves, 4 grizzly bears, 52 mountain lions, 18 black bears, 320 foxes (plus 23 fox dens with an unknown number of casualties) and more than 20,000 coyotes (plus 47 coyote dens with an unknown number of causalities).  Notably, the number of carnivores killed has not varied significantly over the past three years, raising the question as to efficacy of lethal management in reducing population.

Wildlife Services is a multimillion-dollar federal program that annually kills an average of 1.5 million native species nationally, per its own reports, under the guise of “wildlife management.”  Wildlife Services relies upon taxpayer dollars for its killing campaign, often using costly methods such as “aerial gunning” (use of helicopters) to launch preemptive strikes on thousands of carnivores prior to any actual conflict with humans.  Most of the killing responds to requests from the agriculture industry.

“Wildlife Services has been given carte blanche to exterminate inconvenient wildlife for far too long, without due consideration of the impact on ecosystems or the effectiveness of lethal control,” said Sarah McMillan of WildEarth Guardians. “The agency must take a hard look at the science and consider the many non-lethal alternatives that can address wildlife conflict without harming the environment and inflicting cruelty upon animals.”

Wildlife Services uses painful leghold traps, strangulation snares, and poisons to kill wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, birds and other wild animals. In Montana, Wildlife Services also employs sodium cyanide devices (M44s), to kill coyotes and foxes.  These devices are indiscriminate poisons that have been responsible for the death of numerous domestic pets and endangered species. They have been banned in several states, with a federal ban introduced earlier this year.

“It’s astonishing to me that Wildlife Services has been killing millions of animals annually for the last century with taxpayer money, but with little public knowledge,” said Jennifer Schwartz, staff attorney for WildEarth Guardians.  “This lawsuit aims to help shine the light on the agency’s actions and to get the government to reconsider publicly funding the extermination of native species when the current science shows removing top predators negatively affects entire ecosystems and that lethal control tactics are often inefficient and counterproductive anyway.”

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.

According to the complaint filed today, Wildlife Services must use recent studies to thoroughly analyze the efficacy and environmental effects of the state’s animal damage control program on Montana’s treasured wildlife and native ecosystems.

“Nobody uses Motorola flip phones anymore, so why is Wildlife Services relying upon an environmental analysis from the 1990s and tools and practices from the previous century?” said McMillan. “That’s bananas.”