Editorial: Judges find in the folds of the law a right to watch predators

You never know what new, previously unheard of rights some federal judges can find tucked in the folds of the law.

Earlier this month a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, of course, rejected a decision by Nevada U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du that let stand an 80-year-old predator control system run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services and the Nevada Department of Wildlife. The circuit court panel remanded the case for further review.

The 21-page opinion written by Judge Michelle T. Friedland basically said a member of the Colorado-based WildEarth Guardians, Don Molde, has a right to expect to go walking in the wild and see coyotes and ravens. Pay no heed to the fact that without adequate control such predators prey on both livestock and other wildlife, such as sage grouse, which are soon to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

A member of the dog family, the coyote resembles its domestic cousins except that its nose is more pointed and its tail is bushier. The coyote is a very vocal mammal, communicating through barks and howls. Its scientific name, Canis latrans, literally means ‘barking dog.” The coyote is now the most widespread mammal in the United States, according to the Department of Interior.

Judge Du had ruled the self-styled Guardians’ suit was not redressable because even if the federal government ended its $100 million a year subsidy for predator control the state could easily step in and take over the program, which bags about 6,000 coyotes a year. The 9th Circuit panel called this “hypothetical rather than actual.”

The damages to Guardians member Molde described in the opinion are at best ludicrous.

“For example, Molde stated that he has curtailed his walks with his dog for fear that the dog would be caught in NWSP’s (Nevada Wildlife Services Program) predator traps,” the opinion states. “Molde further described how NWSP’s activities reduce the number of ravens that he is able to observe during his birdwatching, and how NWSP’s aerial hunting practices reduce his chances of seeing coyotes.”

The circuit court judges deemed this deprivation of seeing predators in the wild rises to the level of constituting damages under their criteria: “To establish standing, a plaintiff must show that ‘(1) he or she has suffered an injury in fact that is concrete and particularized, and actual or imminent; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct; and (3) the injury is likely to be redressed by a favorable court decision.’”

No mention was made of reduced profitability to ranchers due to a reduced number of surviving calves and lambs.

After the ruling, The Associated Press quoted Bethany Cotton, wildlife director for WildEarth Guardians, as saying, “For example, peer-reviewed science shows that indiscriminate killing of coyotes triggers a biological response that actually leads to an increase in the coyote population,” adding that a better way to protect sage grouse from coyotes — and their eggs from ravens — is to enforce livestock grazing standards that prevent overgrazing that eliminates grass and sage brush the birds need for cover.

Which, of course, is ridiculous and entirely a fantasy on both arguments.

We hope Judge Du can find some way to uphold her original dismissal of the case on grounds that can skirt this new-found right to walk in the wild and watch coyotes attack. Sounds like fodder for a reality TV show.

A version of this editorial appeared this past week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

7 comments on “Editorial: Judges find in the folds of the law a right to watch predators

  1. Rez says:

    I suggest that we stake out a few of these “WildEarth Guardians” and let them view a coyote attack up close and personal, just like they claim they want to see!

    I like coyotes just fine so long as they stick to their own business and keep the small vermin in check (I’ve seen it where if you don’t have coyotes, you’re soon overrun by rabbits). When they get into my business (which is to say, my livestock), then we have a disagreement.

  2. Rincon says:

    Right idea, wrong reason. The harm suffered by the clod who goes coyote watching is miniscule, but it’s ridiculous for us taxpayers to pay for the coyotes’ elimination. Ranchers have guns. Let them do the work. Predator traps are a poor choice because of the “bycatch”, including humans and pets.

    “Pay no heed to the fact that without adequate control such predators prey on both livestock and other wildlife, such as sage grouse, which are soon to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.” The sage grouse did fine when it had tall grass to help it hide its nests from predators. Cattle and sheep eliminated much of that, but now, the conservative answer is to kill coyotes because they eat the species that we’ve decimated. Sounds like the conservative answers to lots of things. Screw things up and apply patches as needed.

  3. You have it backward. There were no grouse before the coming of cattle. There was no grass and no developed water sources.

  4. Rincon says:

    Who says? As you will recall, our sources differ, but I can’t remember you specifying yours. The source I used before: http://www.fws.gov/greatersagegrouse/factsheets/Primer1-SGBeginnersGuide.pdf

  5. Rincon says:

    I’m not sure that using your opinion as previously recorded can be considered a source. Your other source seems reasonable enough, but it’s difficult to tell if his conclusions are justified. He named several early explorers of the west that never mentioned a sage grouse and that this lack of mention meant they weren’t there. Did they duly record all of the other animals? He doesn’t say. I do laugh at one passage, intended to convince us there were few sage grouse back then, from an old document: “We frequently traveled without water, sometimes for two days, over sandy deserts where there was no sign of vegetation”. Does anyone claim that sage grouse were present in the driest parts of the desert then or now? Gimme a break.

    We may actually never know what the population was before European visitors came, because the earliest visitors trapped a lot of beavers. Their dams likely kept many of today’s seasonal waterways wet year round, making a habitat for the sage grouse. Although water provided for cattle may help create a habitat for the sage grouse, I know of no accounts describing them drinking from a water trough made for cattle. The mere presence of water doesn’t mean it’s available to the sage grouse.

    Fact is, as with global warming, no one can be sure, so it would be best if you didn’t claim that you are.

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