SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Three conservation groups sued a U.S. Agriculture Department agency in federal court in San Francisco Tuesday, seeking to force an update of its plans for killing or managing wild animals that could harm people, livestock and farms in the North Bay and Sacramento area.

Animals killed by the department’s Wildlife Services division include bears, wolves, foxes and coyotes. The agency operates the century-old program under contract to other federal agencies, local governments and private landowners.

The lawsuit led by the Center for Biological Diversity claims the program’s last environmental review from 1997 needs to be updated with either a full environmental impact statement or a new environmental assessment.

It alleges that techniques authorized in that plan, such as leg-hold traps, poison gas in dens, strangulation snares and aerial gunning are inhumane and also harm non-targeted animals, including endangered and threatened species and companion animals.

“Wildlife Services’ cruel killing practices are ineffective, inhumane and totally out of touch with science. Nonlethal methods of addressing wildlife conflicts are proven to work,” Center for Biological Diversity attorney Collette Adkins said in a statement.

Wildlife Services spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said, “Because this is pending litigation we are unable to comment.”

The lawsuit concerns the plan for 10 counties in the agency’s Sacramento District, which includes Colusa, El Dorado, Lake, Marin, Napa, Placer, Sacramento, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo counties.

Marin County dropped out of the federal program in 2000, however, and instead uses a county-administered program that emphasizes nonlethal approaches such as fencing, the use of dogs and llamas as guard animals, night corrals, lamb sheds and noise and light devices.

The lawsuit claims the proven effectiveness of those techniques is one of the factors that must be analyzed in a new review.

“Marin County’s experience demonstrates that nonlethal wildlife management tools are both effective and affordable,” the lawsuit contends.

The other plaintiffs are the Cotati-based Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Berkeley-based Earth Island Institute’s Project Coyote.

The same three organizations and three others filed a similar federal lawsuit in San Francisco in 2017 seeking an updated analysis for 10 Northern California counties in the agency’s North District.

That lawsuit ended later in 2017 in a settlement in which Wildlife Services agreed to complete a new environmental impact statement by 2023. It also promised that until then, it won’t use lead bullets or pesticides on targeted animals, and won’t use aerial gunning and body-gripping traps in designated wilderness areas.

 

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