Three conservation groups and the U.S. Agriculture Department have reached a settlement in federal court in San Francisco that will restrict a program for killing wildlife that could harm farms, livestock and people in the North Bay and Sacramento area.
The restrictions will last until the department completes a new Environmental Impact Statement by the end of 2023 on plans for its Wildlife Services program in 10 counties in the agency’s Sacramento District.
The three groups that sued the department last year are the Center for Biological Diversity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Project Coyote.
The settlement was filed together with a request for dismissal of the lawsuit, which was signed Monday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler.
The settlement bans the use of body-gripping traps, such as steel leg-hold traps and strangulation snares, in wilderness areas and national parks within the 10 counties. Any traps that are set elsewhere in the region will be checked daily.
The agreement also prohibits the use of a bird-killing poison in areas occupied by the tri-colored blackbird, which is listed as a threatened species under California law. It forbids the use of lead bullets except when the wildlife killed can be retrieved from the environment. The pact also ends most beaver-killing in waterways where endangered wildlife depends on beaver-created habitats.
Collette Adkins, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “This victory will save hundreds of animals that would have needlessly suffered and died in traps set by Wildlife Services over the next several years.”
The Wildlife Services program, operated under contracts with other federal agencies, local governments and private landowners, is intended to prevent wildlife from damaging agriculture, industry and people. Animals killed include bears, wolves, foxes and coyotes.
The settlement states that neither the conservation groups nor the Agriculture Department admit to any of the facts or claims at issue in the case. The dismissal order provides that the court will retain jurisdiction for the purpose of enforcing compliance with the settlement.
The 10 counties affected by the agreement are 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 Agriculture Department’s Wildlife Services division, formerly called Animal Damage Control, is part of its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.