Lawsuit targets controversial plan to kill carnivores in Colorado

Listen to this post

RBC I Conservationists are suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services over its carnivore-killing program in Colorado. Included in the larger program are plans to kill up to 120 mountain lions and black bears in Colorado in an attempt to reduce predation on the state’s mule deer population.

The suit argues that the program failed to fully analyze the environmental impacts of its destruction of wildlife in Colorado, including other native carnivores like coyotes and foxes.
“Wildlife Services is once again using taxpayer dollars to kill native wildlife while ignoring science and public opinion,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “The public is entitled to know the full environmental impacts of publicly funded, scientifically unsound and ethically bankrupt wildlife killing.”
In December 2016, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) approved two plans to kill black bears and mountain lions to assess the impacts on mule deer populations. The plans charge Wildlife Services with carrying out the program using public funds. In the opinion of the plaintiffs, Wildlife Services’ involvement in the experiment lacks proper review as demanded by federal law.
“Wildlife Services’ decision to expand its killing program is misguided,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center representing the organizations. “The best available science reveals loss of habitat from oil and gas development is the driving factor in mule deer decline, not predation from black bears and mountain lions.”
The lawsuit alleges that Wildlife Services failed to consider the impact its statewide program of killing native carnivores—including black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes and foxes—will have on the environment and Colorado’s unique wild places. The groups are challenging the program’s finding that no significant impact will occur as the result of the program’s planned trapping, poisoning and shooting of native animals in Colorado. The organizations’ challenge also targets the program’s incorporation of CPW’s predator-killing studies in the Piceance and Upper Arkansas basins as part of its work plan without conducting a thorough environmental review.
“I’m outraged that Colorado plans to kill bears and mountain lions to boost deer populations for hunters,” said Collette Adkins, a biologist and attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The state relies on outdated and unscientific thinking that disregards the importance of predators. The scientific analysis that our lawsuit seeks would show that Colorado’s predator-killing program is ecologically harmful, as well as ineffective and cruel.”
Representatives from Colorado Parks and Wildlife said they are unable to comment on the lawsuit.
Together, the Piceance Basin Predator Management Plan and Upper Arkansas River Predator Management Plan would kill between 15 and 45 mountain lions and 30 to 75 bears during three years in 500 square miles in the Piceance Basin, as well as more than half of the mountain lions in 2,370 square miles in the south-central part of the state. The Piceance Basin plan calls for using Wildlife Services to deploy cage traps, culvert traps and foot snares to capture and then shoot mountain lions and bears. CPW ignored a huge amount of public opposition—including the advice of the state’s own leading scientists — in deciding to proceed.
WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity are asking the court to order Wildlife Services to complete a full environmental impact statement before it participates in the state’s plan.
Today’s lawsuit is the second in a series of legal challenges against CPW.
In February, WildEarth Guardians sued the state agency in state court alleging violation of Colorado’s constitutional amendment prohibiting trapping, amongst other claims. A motion for preliminary injunction to prevent the plan from moving forward pending the outcome of litigation is currently before the court. Absent a ruling soon, the bear and mountain lion reduction is slated to begin May 1.
The organizations are represented by attorneys Matthew Bishop and John Mellgren of the Western Environmental Law Center and Stuart Wilcox of WildEarth Guardians.