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Cascadia Wildlands v. Woodruff

ELR Citation: 46 ELR 20002
Nos. 3:15-cv-05132, (W.D. Wash., 12/17/2015) (Bryan)

A district court held that USDA's Wildlife Services failed to comply with NEPA with respect to gray wolf management in Washington. The agency entered into a cooperative service agreement with Washington's wildlife agency to help implement the state's Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, particularly with regard to diverting the state's focus on conservation and recovery instead of capture or removal. After it entered into the agreement, Wildlife Services prepared an EA and finding of no significant impact (FONSI). In so doing, however, Wildlife Services failed to disclose and analyze the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of the proposed action and its alternatives. Although Wildlife Services may have taken a hard look at the effects of lethal removal on non-target species, the record shows it did not take a hard look at the ecological effects of lethal removal or its effect on gray wolf populations. Wildlife Services also acted arbitrarily and capriciously and contrary to law by not preparing an EIS. Although aspects of Wildlife Services' consideration under the EA and FONSI were sufficiently thorough, Wildlife Services misjudged the scope of its responsibility by deferring to the state agency rather than diligently considering issues that may arise under the potentially broad scope of involvement in the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. Wildlife Services repeatedly but erroneously falls back on the position that it need not do so because it only intends to act at the state’s direction. Had the contractual relationship between WDFW and Wildlife Services been more narrowly prescribed, perhaps that would be a tenable position, but relying on the Cooperative Services Agreement is unavailing. The court, therefore, vacated the EA and FONSI and held that Wildlife Services may engage with the state in wolf management activities only to the extent it did so prior to the EA and FONSI. Whether to prepare an EIS, renegotiate a narrower scope of involvement with the state, or abandon assistance efforts entirely rests with Wildlife Services.