A mountain lion mother and cub in the Rocky Mountains. Rarepic in / Flickr

Plan to Kill Colorado Mountain Lions, Black Bears Prompts Lawsuit Against U.S. Fish & Wildlife

Three conservation and animal-protection organizations sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Thursday for funding a Colorado Parks and Wildlife plan to kill hundreds of mountain lions and dozens of black bears without analyzing the risks to the state's environment.

The multi-year plan to kill black bears and mountain lions in the Piceance Basin and Upper Arkansas River areas of Colorado is intended to artificially boost the mule deer population where habitat has been degraded by oil and gas drilling. The killing plans were approved despite overwhelming public opposition, and over the objection of leading scientific voices in Colorado.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Colorado by the Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States and WildEarth Guardians. The lawsuit faults the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to adequately analyze the impacts of these lethal predator-control experiments under the National Environmental Policy Act.

"It's appalling that the Fish and Wildlife Service bankrolled this killing without bothering to truly examine the environmental risks," said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Reckless oil and gas drilling has destroyed mule deer habitat, and outdated predator-control techniques can't fix that. Slaughtering bears and mountain lions will only further damage these ecosystems."

The Piceance Basin Plan will last three years. Colorado Parks and Wildlife will use specialized contractors, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services program, to kill mountain lions and black bears using inhumane traps, snares and hounds. The killing will be focused on and around the Roan Plateau, considered one of the most biologically diverse areas in Colorado. Up to 75 black bears and 45 cougars will be killed for a cost of approximately $645,000—75 percent of which will be paid for with federal taxpayer dollars.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorizing the use of millions of public dollars meant to promote wildlife restoration to kill Colorado's bears and mountain lions is outrageous," said Stuart Wilcox, staff attorney for WildEarth Guardians based in Denver. "Scapegoating species key to ensuring Colorado's ecosystems remain resilient—because the state wants to ignore the true impacts of the filthy fossil fuel industry—adds insult to injury."

The Upper Arkansas River Plan will last nine years, during which time Colorado Parks and Wildlife plans to kill more than 50 percent of the mountain lion population in the area. Colorado expects the killing of up to 234 mountain lions will cost nearly $4 million, 75 percent of which will be federally funded.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service has an obligation under federal law to evaluate the environmental implications of its actions, relying on the best available science, and to allow the public to review that analysis," said Anna Frostic, managing attorney for wildlife and animal research at The Humane Society of the United States. "The agency has failed to comply with these statutory duties, ignoring potentially devastating impacts on black bears and mountain lions."

Rather than provide an independent analysis disclosing the environmental impacts of the Piceance Basin and Upper Arkansas River plans, the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to adopt an environmental assessment prepared by Wildlife Services, a wholly separate agency, whose purpose is to kill so-called "nuisance" animals nationwide.

Mountain lions and black bears are critical to their native ecosystems. Mountain lion predation produces carrion that feeds more bird and mammal scavengers than that of any other predator on the planet. Black bears' diverse diet of fruits results in broad dispersion of seeds, and their foraging behavior creates disturbances that allow sunlight to reach plants below the forest canopy, making them "ecosystem engineers."

Bears and cougars are vulnerable to persecution and could be extirpated from these two regions as a result of the plans. The Fish and Wildlife Service failed to consider the many substantial environmental harms that are likely to result from the plans, such as the harm to the local ecosystem of this potential extirpation and the suffering and deaths of orphaned cubs and kittens.

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