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Rare Lynx Finally Gain Federal Protection Throughout The U.S.

However, Feds Fall Short in Revising Critical Habitat; Challenge Announced

Additional contact:

Matthew Bishop, (406) 324-8011 or bishop@westernlaw.org


DENVER, COLO. — After eight years of advocacy and litigation by WildEarth Guardians (Guardians) and the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC), today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) finally announced it will list the New Mexico population of Canada lynx as threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act, and extend that protection to wherever lynx occur in the contiguous United States.

While WELC and Guardians applaud this decision, the groups are disappointed that the Service announced at the same time it will exclude all occupied lynx habitat in the Southern Rockies, from southern Wyoming, throughout Colorado, and into northern New Mexico, from the species’ critical habitat designation. This exclusion also extends to important lynx habitat in parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and other states in the species’ range. Guardians and WELC will notify the Service of their intent to legally challenge the inadequate critical habitat designation for lynx.

“By ignoring huge swaths of currently occupied lynx habitat, the Service is undermining lynx recovery efforts yet again,” said Drew Kerr, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “To survive threats including climate change, motorized recreation, development, logging, and fossil fuel extraction, lynx need habitat protections throughout their range.”

The Service first listed lynx as a threatened species in 2000. The listing protected lynx in 14 states, but, astonishingly, failed to include lynx in New Mexico and other areas where the Service knew they existed. In 2007, Guardians, WELC, and other allies petitioned the Service to include the New Mexico lynx population in the ESA listing. The Service ignored that petition, forcing the groups to go to court to compel a response. The Service finally acknowledged that New Mexico lynx warranted federal protection, but competing priorities precluded that protection. Unfortunately, by this time, the lack of protections contributed to the death of 14 of the known 61 New Mexico lynx.

In 2009, WELC and Guardians sued to challenge the Service’s “warranted but precluded” decision. Again the groups prevailed, and the Service included a lynx re-listing deadline in its landmark settlement with Guardians resolving the government’s ESA listing backlog. The final listing decision, announced today, includes the New Mexico population and all lynx in the Lower 48.

“It took a formal petition and two subsequent lawsuits, but imperiled lynx will finally be protected in northern New Mexico and wherever they travel in the lower 48,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who represents the groups. “This is significant progress. There was simply no basis in law, science, or policy for the Service’s use of state boundaries to deprive lynx protected status.”

The Service’s failure to protect adequate lynx habitat threatens the species’ survival and recovery. After the initial 2000 lynx listing, the Service waited until 2006 to specifically protect any lynx habitat. After two additional lawsuits brought by conservationists challenging the Service’s critical habitat designation culminated in 2008 and 2010, a district court in Montana left the Service’s meager lynx habitat protection in place but remanded it to the agency for improvement. This resulted in today’s still inadequate habitat designation.

“After four tries, the Service still has yet to get lynx critical habitat right,” said Kerr. “You’d think they would learn their lesson and comply with the Endangered Species Act and the courts by adequately protecting this magnificent carnivore’s habitat.”

Although lynx habitat is under threat throughout the contiguous U.S., the Service’s new designation decreases protections from 39,000 square miles to 38,954 square miles, which is a 2,593 square mile reduction from the area previously proposed for designation in 2013. The Service again excluded much of the cat’s historic and currently occupied last best habitat in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Oregon from protection. In doing so, the Service improperly discounted historic records confirming lynx presence throughout the Cascade and Rocky Mountains before excessive hunting and trapping nearly wiped them out.

BACKGROUND

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.

WildEarth Guardians is a nonprofit conservation organization working to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers and health of the American West.

The Western Environmental Law Center uses the power of the law to safeguard the wildlife, wildlands, and communities of the American West.


 

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