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Forest Service Sued to Force Protections for Gray Wolves

The U.S. Forest Service failed to study how grazing is affecting gray wolves returning to a Washington national forest, and it’s continuing to turn a blind eye to a ranch that refuses to use measures to avoid conflicts with wolves, environmental groups say in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in a Washington federal court.

WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, and the Kettle Range Conservation Group describe Colville National Forest as an “epicenter of wolf-livestock conflicts” in the state.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has killed 31 wolves since 2012. Of those killings, 28 were in response to cattle grazing in the national forest and 26 were killed on behalf of grazing permittee Diamond M Ranch, according to the group’s lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.

The Forest Service issued a revised management plan for the forest in 2019. Yet the plan doesn’t consider an alternative for reducing wolf-livestock conflicts and doesn’t consider whether its appropriate to still allocate 68% of the forest for grazing, the environmental groups say.

USFS’s failures have resulted in a flawed forest management plan and violate the National Environmental Policy Act and National Forest Management Act, according to the lawsuit.

Diamond M Ranch is reportedly the largest cattle producer in Washington. However, the ranch has refused to cooperate with WDFW to employ non-lethal wolf deterrent measures or follow recommendations for best management practices, according to the lawsuit.

Environmental groups say wildlife advocates and the Forest Service’s own employees called for officials to modify or suspend the ranch’s permit over “well-documented recalcitrant behavior and high-conflict grazing practices.”

“Ignoring this public outcry, the Forest Service continues authorizing the same problematic cattle grazing it knows will likely end in dead wolves,” according to the lawsuit.

The agency’s refusal to ensure no jeopardy to gray wolves by consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violates the Endangered Species Act, the environmental groups say.

“Washington’s wolves deserve better than to be cast aside for private business profits,” said Jocelyn Leroux, Washington and Montana director of the Western Watersheds Project in a press release.

Causes of Action: National Environmental Policy Act; National Forest Management Act; Endangered Species Act.

Relief: Injunctive and declaratory relief; an order vacating the revised forest plan; attorneys’ fees and costs.

Response: The Forest Service doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation.

Attorneys: WildEarth Guardians, the Western Watersheds Project, and Advocates for the West represent the environmental groups.

The case is WildEarth Guardians v. U.S. Forest Serv., E.D. Wash., No. 2:20-cv-00223, 6/17/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maya Earls in Washington at mearls@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

Source: https://news.bloomberglaw.com/environment-and-energy/forest-service-sued-to-force-protections-for-gray-wolves