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Lynx in New Mexico Warrant Listing But Remain in Legal Limbo

Feds Cite "Higher Priorities" As Excuse Not to Protect Wild Cat

SANTA FE, N.M. - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced in today’s Federal Register that lynx in New Mexico deserve federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, but they are withholding that protection due to “higher priorities.” While conservation groups were pleased the Service has finally agreed that New Mexico’s lynx need federal protection, they are concerned today’s decision leaves the state’s lynx in legal limbo, without effective safeguards.

For a species to enjoy Endangered Species Act protection, it must be added to the list of endangered or threatened species. The national listing program has reached an all-time low, with only 2 new U.S. species listed thus far in the Obama administration’s first year in office. In today’s decision, the Service assigned lynx in New Mexico to the end of a line of approximately 330 species formally awaiting protection.

“With the stroke of a pen, the Service could have listed the lynx in today’s decision. Instead, it placed New Mexico’s lynx in a queue where they could wait for decades to get federal protection,” stated Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.

At present, lynx are protected elsewhere in the lower 48 states under the Endangered Species Act, but are stripped of their protections once they enter the mountainous regions of northern New Mexico. In contrast, in a decision published in the Federal Register yesterday, the Service provided an animal in a similar situation (the Ramsey Canyon leopard frog) with immediate protection, in the course of just one paragraph of text.

In 2007, Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center filed a petition in 2007 on behalf of WildEarth Guardians, Center for Native Ecosystems, Born Free USA, Animal Protection of New Mexico, and Carson Forest Watch to ensure that the highly imperiled cats do not lose their legal protection once they cross from Colorado into New Mexico. Today’s decision is a direct response to that petition.

“We're certainly pleased the Service recognized the need to protect lynx in New Mexico,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center representing the groups. “That said, it took over two years for the Service to come to this realization and now, because of a ‘limited budget’ they need an additional two years -- perhaps longer -- to simply redraw the lynx's protective boundary in the Southern Rockies. This is absurd.”

Lynx reintroduced in southern Colorado-where the cats are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act-face significant risks when crossing into north-central New Mexico, where they enjoy no legal safeguards.

“This finding shows that the Service agrees with us that lynx in New Mexico deserve the same protections that they are afforded in Colorado and other parts of their range,” said Paige Bonaker, staff biologist for Center for Native Ecosystems. “The habitat in northern New Mexico is key as Canada lynx from Colorado spread out and find new home ranges. Why is the Service making the cats wait for this much-needed protection?”

Lynx consistently roam into New Mexico. The number of cats entering the State has increased since reintroduction efforts in Colorado began back in 1999. Maps and data from a 2009 Colorado Division of Wildlife report indicate that New Mexico includes high density lynx use areas. Without federal protection, at least 14 lynx have been killed in New Mexico due to shooting, vehicle collisions, starvation, and unknown causes. Given the high mortality for lynx traveling in New Mexico, federal protections for lynx in New Mexico are imperative to their long-term survival. Colorado’s report said that lynx may be occurring year-round and even reproducing in New Mexico.

View the finding in the Federal Register (PDF)

View the 2009 Colorado Division of Wildlife report (PDF)


 

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