Legal Victory Guarantees Analysis of Wildlife Services’ Killings in Northern California
SAN FRANCISCO— In response to a lawsuit filed by wildlife advocacy groups, a San Francisco federal court today approved a settlement requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to implement numerous protections for wildlife in Northern California, including a ban on traps and aerial gunning in designated “wilderness areas.”
Today’s settlement also requires Wildlife Services to analyze the environmental impacts of its killing of coyotes, bobcats and other wildlife in 16 counties in Northern California.
The ironically named Wildlife Services is a multimillion-dollar federal program that uses painful leghold traps, strangulation snares, poisons and aerial gunning to kill wolves, coyotes, cougars, birds and other wild animals — primarily to benefit the agriculture and livestock industries.
“This is a big victory for California wildlife targeted by this federal program’s horrifically destructive war on animals,” said Collette Adkins, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney representing the conservation groups involved in the lawsuit. “We’ve saved hundreds of animals that would have suffered and died in traps set by Wildlife Services over the next several years. That feels really good.”
Under the court order approved today, Wildlife Services must provide, by the end of 2023, an “environmental impact statement” that analyzes the effects and risks of its wildlife-killing program in California’s North District. The North District includes Butte, Del Norte, Glenn, Humboldt, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity and Yuba counties.
Pending completion of that study, which will include robust public commenting opportunities, the court order imposes several measures to protect wildlife in the North District. It bans the use of M-44 cyanide devices, den fumigants and lead ammunition. It bans aerial gunning and any use of body-gripping traps, such as strangulation snares and steel-jaw leghold traps, in designated wilderness and wilderness study areas. The order also requires Wildlife Services to implement several measures to protect California’s endangered gray wolves from being accidentally killed in traps set for other carnivores. These measures include a ban on Conibear traps and non-breakaway snares in areas used by the wolves.
“Wolves are just starting to return to their native habitats in Northern California, and this settlement provides needed interim protections to protect wolves while a detailed environmental study examines whether lethal wildlife ‘management’ options should even be on the table,” said Erik Molvar of Western Watersheds Project. “It is long past time that federal agencies stop the killing of native wildlife at the behest of the livestock industry, and ultimately we hope that the added public scrutiny will force a shift to nonlethal options.”
Last year Wildlife Services reported killing 1.6 million native animals nationwide. In California alone this total included 3,893 coyotes, 142 foxes, 83 black bears, 18 bobcats and thousands of other creatures. Nontarget animals — including protected wildlife such as wolves, Pacific fisher and eagles — are at risk from Wildlife Services’ indiscriminate methods.
“For over two decades, Wildlife Services has relied on cruel and outdated methods, such as steel-jaw leghold traps, in California — despite a statewide ban on private use of such devices,” said Tara Zuardo, Animal Welfare Institute wildlife attorney. “Today’s decision from the court ensures the environmental analysis of the program’s killing of wildlife will receive a much-needed update. California wildlife deserves this protection.”
“Wildlife Services’ lethal ‘control’ is ineffective, wasteful and cruel,” said Michelle Lute, wildlife coexistence campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “We are changing this clandestine government program state-by-state until wildlife and people are safe on our public lands.”
“With this victory for wildlife we have demonstrated that Wildlife Services has failed to use the best available science and continues to rely on ecologically destructive and ethically indefensible management practices,” said Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote. “It is past time that this rogue agency shifts to more effective, humane, and ecologically sound ways of reducing conflicts between wildlife and agricultural interests.”
“Thousands of California wildlife will now have a much needed reprieve from the federal killing agency,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “This settlement sends the powerful message that Wildlife Services’ indiscriminate killing programs will not go unchallenged.”
The victory announced today is the result of a lawsuit filed in June by the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Project Coyote, the Animal Welfare Institute and WildEarth Guardians.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.5 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, the Animal Legal Defense Fund files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit aldf.org.
The Animal Welfare Institute (awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere — in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild.
Project Coyote is a national nonprofit organization and a North American coalition of wildlife educators, scientists, ranchers, and community leaders promoting coexistence between people and wildlife, and compassionate conservation through education, science, and advocacy. For more information, visitwww.projectcoyote.org.
Western Watersheds Project is an environmental conservation group working to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife
WildEarth Guardians works to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers and health of the American West.
Cougars are a uniquely adapted creature. They are perfectly evolved to live in their natural habitat, from climbing to running to swimming. They are incredible athletes, without needing to go to a gym a single day in their lives. They do get coaching from their mothers for the first 6 months or so of their lives, but they are born with physical characteristics that make them very well suited to living in the wooded hills and plains throughout their range. Those characteristics make them the beautiful and competent apex predators that they are. Here are a few of their physical characteristics that make them into the perfect balanced package of agility and strength - and beauty.
Cougars are excellent climbers. Not only can they simply leap vertically up to 25 feet, they have highly-curved retractable claws that allow them to grip the tree for climbing.
Mountain lion paws are 3" to 5" wide, and they are about as long as wide, so their tracks are described as square or circular. Their front paws are larger than their back paws. Their wide paws probably help them swim, among many other things they are useful for. Mountain lions have been recorded swimming for 15 minutes and more at a time, and they aren't afraid of water at all.
Cougars have very long tails, which help them to balance. Do you notice anything that looks different about this cougar than many of the others we feature on this site? This cougar lives in captivity. You can tell by the fat belly, which you might recognize if you know any older domestic housecats, who tend to develop the same characteristic.
Cougars have relatively flat faces with prominent front-facing eyes. Their eyes allow them to see a single object with both eyes at the same time (that's called stereoscopic vision, and humans have it too). That's very important to depth perception and the ability to stalk prey. You can't see it in this picture, but they also have a special adaptation to their retinas that gives them great night vision.
With hiking and camping season coming right up in most of the places where mountain lions live, we thought this would be a good time to talk about good mountain lion safety practices for being in the outdoors.
First, you should know that you have incredibly small odds of even seeing a cougar at all, let alone having an interaction with one. If you do see one in a safe manner, you should consider yourself extremely lucky! Very few people in the world will get to see something as awe-inspiring as a wild mountain lion. The threat of a dangerous encounter is very rare.
If you do have an encounter with a cougar it will help to know what steps you can take. You can do this by making noise when you are hiking and biking, especially at dawn and dusk. Travel together with friends. If you enjoy the outdoors with children (we hope you do!), have children stay close to adults.
If you see a cougar at a close range, first and foremost, don't run! And, make yourself look big. Don't bend down to pick up a stick, but if you are already carrying a walking stick or wearing a jacket you can raise it above your head to make yourself look as big as possible. You'll want to use your voice to talk in a loud firm voice and tell the cougar to get away. This video from Western Wildlife Outreach does a great job of showing a demonstration of what this looks like. http://westernwildlife.org/videos/ (it's the first video on the page). Plus it's narrated by Chris Morgan, the same fine voice talent that narrated our Secret Life of Mountain Lions video!
We hope you have great plans this summer for adventures in the wide-open spaces that support cougars AND humans in important wild ways! For more information on how to avoid a negative encounter with a mountain lion, bear or wolf, go to Western Wildlife Outreach website http://westernwildlife.org/videos/
Rat poison kills far more than just rats. The poison, or rodenticide as it's also known, accumulates in the small rodents, which are then eaten by larger animals. This is a problem virtually everywhere, and for all kinds of predators from hawks to bobcats.
Here at The Secret Life of Mountain Lions we were saddened by this recent report of a bobcat that had to be euthanized in the Santa Monica area in California. It's not likely that anyone is trying to poison the big cats on purpose. But the poison makes its way up the food chain without anyone's intent. According to the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, eleven out of twelve mountain lions in their area tested positive for two or more rodent toxin poisons.
What can you do? Educating yourself and those in your neighborhood is always the first step. An organization called Raptors Are The Solution has a great set of tips for alternative ways to manage rodents. And The Hungry Owl Project also has insightful information about how rodenticides get into the food chain, and a very cool suggestion for rodenticide-free management techniques!
You can also spread the word by sharing alternatives with your family, friends, and neighbors, or posting on Facebook and Twitter with the buttons below. Thank you for your help!
Ask nearly anyone who has had the experience of seeing a cougar in the wild, and you will hear words like amazing, surreal, and profound. The odds of seeing a cougar at all are very slim, and the chances of having a negative interaction with a cougar are smaller still. But with hiking season approaching soon, we thought it would be a good idea to talk about some safety tips for being outdoors in mountain lion territory.
Fortunately for us, The Western Wildlife Outreach has already compiled some great tips, including things about protecting your pets and livestock if you live in mountain lion country. Have a look here http://westernwildlife.org/cougar-outreach-project/tips-for-coexistence-with-cougars and then let us know if you have any more of your own tips to add.
Enjoy your hikes!