The USDA’s agreement to kill wolves on behalf of Oregon wildlife regulators isn’t a “major federal action” warranting environmental review, according to a federal judge.
Even if USDA’s Wildlife Services was required to study the impact of killing wolves in Oregon, the agency properly concluded it would have no significant environmental impact, U.S. District Judge Michael McShane ruled.
Several environmental groups filed a lawsuit last year arguing that USDA’s Wildlife Services insufficiently studied the effects of its contract to kill wolves with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The plaintiffs — Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Wildearth Guardians, Predator Defense and Project Coyote — claimed the agency’s decision violated the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.
Wolf management is governed by state wildlife officials in Eastern Oregon, where the predators aren’t protected under the Endangered Species Act.
In 2009, ODFW directed USDA Wildlife Services to kill two wolves, bringing about a lawsuit from environmental groups.
The resulting settlement obligated USDA to conduct an environmental assessment of the agreement, but the analysis found the federal agency’s involvement didn’t have significant environmental consequences.
McShane has now rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that USDA should have conducted a more extensive “environmental impact statement,” or EIS, due to the controversy and unknown risks of killing wolves.
The agency took a “hard look” at the issue and allowably concluded that “due to the high reproductive rates of wolves and the ample prey and territory in eastern Oregon, wolf populations are expected to grow despite wolf removal, regardless of the source,” the judge said.
Some of the studies submitted by the environmental plaintiffs supported the concept that killing wolves eliminates “genetic or behavioral traits” linked to livestock depredation, McShane said.
However, the USDA wasn’t even mandated by NEPA to perform this environmental analysis, he said.
The decision to kill wolves ultimately rested with ODFW, not USDA Wildlife Services, so the action doesn’t trigger an environmental review by the federal agency, the judge ruled.
“Because Wildlife Services provided only marginal federal funding and lacks the requisite discretionary control, Wildlife Services’ actions in assisting with wolf removal as part of Oregon’s Wolf Plan does not constitute ‘major federal action’ and NEPA does not apply,” he said.