US conservation groups sue federal agencies over Montana predator removal program News
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US conservation groups sue federal agencies over Montana predator removal program

Three wildlife conservation groups Wednesday sued the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in the US District Court for the District of Montana over a predator removal program which the groups argue harms “native wildlife, predator conservation, grizzly bears, and grizzly bear conservation.”

The petitioners include wildlife conservation groups WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project and Trap Free. They filed a complaint against the Wildlife Services’ predator damage management program, which aims to protect livestock from wild animals by using lethal methods such as traps and snares to kill predators like grizzly bears.

According to the petition, the Wildlife Service intentionally kills 10 grizzly bears in Montana in a year. The USDA has a permit with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to investigate and act on livestock losses due to conflict with wild animals. The USFWS issues a permit to the USDA under Section 4(d) of the Code of Federal Regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which allows for the removal of a bear that poses a “demonstrable but nonimmediate threat to human safety” or commits “significant depredations to lawfully present livestock, crops, or beehives.” According to the groups, the USDA violated this regulation by not demonstrating a perceptible threat.

The lawsuit also disputed the USFWS’ biological opinion that the program was “not likely to jeopardize the continued existence” of grizzly bears. A WildEarth Guardians representative called for the program to “prioritize the use of science-backed nonlethal coexistence measures instead of continuing to recklessly butcher wildlife.” The lawsuit alleges:

Wildlife Services’ biological assessment and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion on predator removal in Montana failed to use and apply the best available science on grizzly bears, threats to grizzly bears, and recovery of grizzly bears in Montana and in the lower 48 States. Wildlife Services’ and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s evaluation of effects and findings with respect to grizzly bears are not based on the best available science.

The groups argued that the agencies’ failure to follow the “best available science” makes the program an artbitrary and capricious agency action which the courts must halt. The petition requested the court to grant an injunction against the USDA’s predator removal program for violating Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, which prohibits the Wildlife Service from jeopardizing the populations of threatened species, like the grizzly bear.