USDA Wildlife Services has reached a settlement with five conservation organizations agreeing to temporarily stop using lethal methods to target gray wolves on certain public lands and to suspend its use of M-44s, also known as “cyanide bombs.”
The new restrictions will remain in place until the federal agency completes an environmental review of the impacts of killing wolves.
The settlement between Wildlife Services and Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Clearwater, WildEarth Guardians and Predator Defense was filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday.
In June 2016, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit alleging the agency and its Idaho director, Todd Grimm, violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to complete an environmental impact statement for its gray wolf control activities in the state. The case was dismissed in District Court in January 2018, on the basis that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to file it.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held in April of 2019 that the plaintiffs did have standing and remanded the case back to District Court.
Under terms of the settlement, the agency will pay $154,000 in attorney fees to the plaintiffs.
Wildlife Services will temporarily halt lethal control methods of gray wolves within federally designated wilderness areas, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and specified areas of Sawtooth Valley and Wood River Valley.
The agency will be restricted from using surveillance technology to target gray wolves in Idaho wilderness areas, and it will not be allowed to use lethal methods to target wolves on private land unless it’s in response to a documented livestock depredation or attack by a gray wolf. The agency will provide plaintiffs with depredation investigation reports from the prior ear by July 31, as well as copies of other reports prepared for the Wolf Depredation Control Board.
“Wildlife Services won’t be able to keep ignoring the science that shows that killing predators does not reduce livestock losses,” Talasi Brooks, a staff attorney with Western Watersheds Project, said in a press release.
In addition to avoiding M-44 cyanide bombs, Wildlife Services will not kill Idaho wolves for ungulate protection and will not use snares to target gray wolves on Idaho public lands.
“Cyanide bombs and traps are vicious and indiscriminate, and too often lead to the suffering of non-target wildlife and pets,” Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “This victory is a step forward in reducing the suffering of animals at the hands of our federal government.”
Canyon Mansfield of Pocatello was 14 when he was harmed and his dog was killed by a cyanide bomb about three years ago. The device was set illegally and without proper signage on public land near his home.
“This news is very uplifting because it shows progress in our fight for justice for (my deceased dog) Kasey and everyone else who has suffered from these cyanide bombs,” Canyon Mansfield said in a press release. “I believe this shows that we are fighting a battle with a victory in sight.”
Laurie Rule, an attorney for Advocates for the West, said the forthcoming analysis will be detailed and will look at the science surrounding the agency’s lethal controls of predators to inform its new program.
“We’ll be watching carefully to make sure the analysis complies with all laws and fully examines the impacts and effectiveness of predator damage management in Idaho,” Rule said in the press release.