At a time when gun violence and mass shootings make people feel vulnerable just walking out their door, we commend a federal judge who just made California’s human and non-human animals safer.

In a decision hailed as a first by activists, a San Francisco federal court recently approved an agreement between conservationists and the U.S. government halting controversial methods such as aerial gunning to kill “nuisance animals” in Northern California. 

Reuters reported that under terms of the accord, Wildlife Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will suspend for at least six years its practice of gunning down coyotes from helicopters and airplanes and using traps to kill creatures in wilderness areas in 16 counties in California. It bans the use of M-44 cyanide devices, den fumigants and lead ammunition. It bans any use of body-gripping traps, such as strangulation snares and steel-jaw leghold traps, in designated wilderness and wilderness study areas.

The ironically named Wildlife Services is a multimillion-dollar federal program that uses painful leghold traps, strangulation snares, poisons and aerial gunning to kill wolves, coyotes, cougars, birds and other wild animals — primarily to benefit the agriculture and livestock industries.

“Wildlife Services lethal ‘control’ is ineffective, wasteful and cruel,” said Michelle Lute, wildlife coexistence campaigner for Wild Earth Guardians. “We are changing this clandestine government program state-by-state until wildlife and people are safe on our public lands.”

The agreement stems from a June lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians and other conservation groups alleging that Wildlife Services had violated federal law by failing to analyze the environmental impacts of killing hundreds of wild animals in Shasta, Sierra and 14 other northern California counties.

Last year Wildlife Services reported killing 1.6 million native animals nationwide. In California alone this total included 3,893 coyotes, 142 foxes, 83 black bears, 18 bobcats and thousands of other creatures. Nontarget animals — including protected wildlife such as wolves, Pacific fisher and eagles — are at risk from Wildlife Services’ indiscriminate methods.

We hope that other states will follow suit and dismantle this rogue killing agency permanently.