By Judy Calman
The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has failed to prosecute dozens of individuals who have killed endangered animals protected by the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), prompting WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance to sue the federal prosecutorial agency. In their lawsuit, the groups ask the federal court to invalidate the so-called “McKittrick Policy” which has led to this systemic failure to prosecute.
Under its “McKittrick Policy,” the DOJ has taken the wrongful position that it can only prosecute cases for the illegal killing of ESA-protected species when it can prove that the killer specifically intended to kill an endangered species. The DOJ very rarely – if ever – prosecutes an individual for illegally killing a protected animal if the killer claims that the killing resulted from a case of “mistaken identity.”
For example, during the tenure of DOJ’s policy 48 Mexican wolves were illegally shot in the wild. Only two of these incidents resulted in a federal prosecution for illegal “take” (harm or killing) under ESA. The groups believe that the McKittrick Policy has emboldened individuals who are opposed to the conservation of endangered species to disregard the law, as they know that an illegal shooting will almost certainly not lead to federal prosecution. For the Mexican wolf, the effects of the Policy have been cataclysmic: illegal shooting is by far the highest source of mortality for the free-roaming Mexican wolf population.
“Dozens of highly-endangered Mexican wolves have been illegally shot, and in almost every case I’ve reviewed, poachers claimed they thought they had shot a coyote,” said Judy Calman, staff attorney for New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “Despite these killings, the DOJ has failed to prosecute to protect the lobos,” she added. More....