SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - U.S. conservation groups accused the federal Wildlife Services in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday of indiscriminately killing a multitude of wildlife like wolves and mountain lions in Idaho to benefit ranchers and farmers.
The groups asked a U.S. judge in Idaho to force the agency to stop violating federal environmental and wildlife protection laws by conducting campaigns in Idaho such as aerial gunning of wolves without assessing the impacts on public lands and wild animals as required.
The Center for Biological Diversity and five other conservation groups complained in the lawsuit that Wildlife Services, which operates under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, kills thousands of Idaho wolves, foxes, cougars, birds and other creatures considered nuisances to farm or ranch operations, all at taxpayer expense.
"This lawsuit will shine a bright light on this rogue agency that spends millions of dollars annually to indiscriminately shoot, poison and trap wildlife species," said Laird Lucas, head of litigation for Advocates for the West, a Boise-based environmental law firm that was involved in the suit.
The lawsuit also targets the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for what conservationists said was federal wildlife managers' failure to properly assess the consequences on imperiled animals of Wildlife Services' activities in Idaho.
The USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. The Fish and Wildlife Service has a policy of not commenting on litigation or pending litigation.
On its website, Wildlife Services says its mission is to "provide federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist.”
The website describes Wildlife Services as tasked with "wildlife damage management" to protect agriculture, natural resources, property, health and safety. Its activities range from killing predators like wolves found to be preying on livestock to reducing wildlife hazards at airports, according to the website.
In their lawsuit, conservationists claim Wildlife Services has failed to comply with federal laws that order detailed scientific analyses of the impacts of its activities on the environment and protected creatures like the Canada lynx, grizzly bears and bull trout.
"Wildlife Services spends millions of dollars and thousands of person-hours to kill (Idaho wildlife) each year, using aerial and ground shooting, poisons, traps, explosives and other methods (yet it) has flouted its duty to analyze these activities and disclose their likely impacts," the groups claimed in legal documents.
Editing By Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler