Tucson, AZ—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and WildEarth Guardians (Guardians) are suing USDA’s Wildlife Services program due to its lethal wildlife management activities, which violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) sent a required 60-day notice to sue on April 4, 2014, on behalf of the groups.
Historically, jaguars—the largest cat species in the Western Hemisphere—were found in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and possibly as far east as Louisiana. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, these big cats were extirpated from California and Texas, and nearly eradicated from Arizona and New Mexico. This resulted in an endangered species listing for the jaguar across a portion of their range in 1972 and across their entire range in 1997.
After years of delay, in March 2014, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) designated critical habitat for jaguars in Hidalgo County, New Mexico, and the counties of Pima, Santa Cruz, and Cochise in Arizona. Despite the designation, Wildlife Services currently employs lethal wildlife management techniques harmful to endangered jaguars in designated critical habitat, and has failed to consult with USFWS, as is required under the ESA. The groups are suing to bring Wildlife Services in line with the ESA.
“The presence of rare jaguars in the Southwest is part of what makes it such a unique and special part of our country,” said John Mellgren, staff attorney at WELC. “The critical habitat designation will help ensure that the jaguar does not go extinct. As such, it is important that we hold Wildlife Services accountable for actions that could harm jaguars.”
The fundamental purpose of the ESA is to conserve endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend for survival and recovery. The ESA requires federal agencies to ensure that their activities do not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species or adversely modify a listed species’ critical habitat.
Wildlife Services is a relatively unknown (and ironically named) federal program of USDA that is responsible for the deaths of millions of wild animals each year. The program uses multiple lethal management techniques to target large predators in and near designated critical habitat for jaguars—including blind sets, baited and scented traps, draw stations, leg and foot snares, and M-44 cyanide capsule ejectors. Many of these cruel techniques routinely injure and kill non-target species. Wildlife Services is conducting other activities that jeopardize jaguar recovery, including pesticide application in the vicinity of known occupied jaguar habitat.
“Wildlife Services can no longer blindly pretend that jaguars do not have a place in the American Southwest,” said Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney with AWI. “Employing indiscriminate, dangerous lethal control methods in known jaguar habitat is a severe threat to the species’ recovery and must end now.”
“For far too long, Wildlife Services has hidden the impacts of its lethal activities on endangered species like the jaguar,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians. “Wildlife Services must immediately cease its activities in jaguar habitat and comply with the Endangered Species Act.”
Tara Zuardo, Animal Welfare Institute, 202-446-2148 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Bethany Cotton, WildEarth Guardians, 503-327-4923 or email@example.com
John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, 541-359-0990 or firstname.lastname@example.org