AWI and Wildearth guardians plan to sue the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services program over the program’s failure to take steps to ensure that its activities do not harm endangered ocelots. On September 3 the two groups, through their legal representative, the Western Environmental Law Center, gave USDA the required 60-day notice of intent to sue.
Ocelots were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1982. Historically, the small, secretive cats inhabited southeastern Arizona and the southern Rio Grande Plain in Texas. Once thought extirpated from Arizona, multiple ocelot sightings occurred between 2009 and 2012. In April 2014, a remote camera detected a lone male ocelot in the Santa Rita Mountains, southeast of Tucson, confirming that the species is roaming the area.
Wildlife Services uses lethal, indiscriminate techniques to remove carnivores in and near areas where the ocelot was sighted. Such techniques including blind sets, baited and scented traps, draw stations, snares, and M-44 cyanide capsule ejectors. The ESA requires federal agencies to consult with federal wildlife biologists to ensure that their activities do not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species or adversely modify a listed species’ critical habitat. The potential of Wildlife Services activities in ocelot habitat to seriously harm or kill these animals triggers that requirement. Wildlife Services failed to consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, thus violating the ESA.
A month prior to the April 2014 ocelot sighting, a remote camera captured an image of an endangered jaguar in the same region. Given the presence of these imperiled animals in the region, it is time that the federal government stop allowing one of its own programs to engage in reckless activities that clearly defy the primary federal law that mandates that these species be protected.