Conservationists Challenge Failure to Protect Habitat for Imperiled Canada Lynx
Lawsuit Seeks Protections for Habitat Needed for Magnificent Cats' Recovery
Matthew Bishop, Western Environmental Law Center, (406) 324-8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org
MISSOULA, Mont. — Today, WildEarth Guardians represented by the Western Environmental Law Center filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) for failing to designate as critical habitat large parts of the mountainous West vital to the recovery of threatened Canada lynx. Despite multiple court orders over the past eight years requiring the Service reconsider its attempts to limit the species’ protected habitat, on September 12, the agency finalized another revised critical habitat designation that again undermined the cat’s recovery by excluding large areas of important lynx habitat.
The lawsuit challenges the Service’s decision to exclude all lynx habitat in the Southern Rockies from the species’ critical habitat designation. The challenge also seeks to reverse the Service’s refusal to protect important occupied lynx habitat in Washington’s Kettle Range and Wedge areas, and parts of Idaho, Montana and Oregon. Lynx currently live in small populations throughout the Rockies in intact mature forests from Idaho and Montana to Colorado and New Mexico, but the Service ignored the best available science by excluding areas that support the snow-loving cats and the prey they depend on from protection.
“By again ignoring huge swaths of lynx habitat, the Service is undermining the benefits of protecting individual lynx wherever they are found in the lower forty-eight,” said Drew Kerr, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “To recover in the American West, lynx need habitat protections throughout their range.”
The Service first listed lynx as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2000. However, at that time the Service failed to protect any lynx habitat, impeding the species’ survival and recovery. Lynx habitat received no protection until 2006, and that initial critical habitat designation fell short of meeting the species’ needs and the ESA’s standards. After two additional lawsuits brought by conservationists challenging the Service’s critical habitat designations culminated in 2008 and 2010, a district court in Montana left the agency’s meager lynx habitat protection in place while remanded it to the agency for improvement. This resulted in the most recent and still inadequate habitat designation.
“We hoped this time the Service would get it right and protect inhabited lynx habitats across the West, which are essential to the species' survival and recovery in the contiguous U.S.,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Unfortunately, the Service has yet again come up with another round of excuses for excluding important habitat from federal protection.”
Lynx habitat is under threat across the contiguous U.S., where climate change, road building, motorized recreation, and logging all pose serious threats to key habitat. The Service’s latest designation actually decreased existing protections. The Service shrunk the critical habitat by an additional 2,593 square miles from the area proposed for designation in 2013. The Service again excluded much of the cats’ historic and currently occupied last best habitat in the Rockies and Cascades from protection. In doing so, the Service improperly discounted historic records confirming lynx presence throughout these mountain ranges before excessive hunting and trapping nearly exterminated the beautiful cats from the American West.
Canada lynx, medium-sized members of the feline family, are habitat and prey specialists. Heavily reliant on snowshoe hare, lynx tend to be limited in both population and distribution to areas where hare are sufficiently abundant. Like their preferred prey, lynx are specially adapted to living in mature boreal forests with dense cover and deep snowpack. The species and its habitat are threatened by climate change, logging, development, motorized access, and trapping, which disturb and fragment the landscape, increasing risks to lynx and their prey.
Studies show species with designated critical habitat under the ESA are more than twice as likely to have increasing populations than those species without. Similarly, species with adequate habitat protection are less likely to suffer declining populations and more likely to be stable. The ESA allows designation of both occupied and unoccupied habitat key to the recovery of listed species, and provides an extra layer of protection especially for animals like lynx that have an obligate relationship with a particular landscape type.