Feds Fail to Protect Huge Swaths of Rare Cat’s Habitat; Undermine its Recovery

Denver, CO

Today, Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) of their intent to legally challenge inadequate habitat protection for Canada lynx in federal court on behalf of WildEarth Guardians, Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild and Wilderness Workshop.

Yesterday, the Service announced a two-part decision required by federal court orders finding the Service failed to adequately protect rare Canada lynx, a species listed as threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act.

The Service got only part of the decision right. The imperiled cat is now protected wherever it travels in the U.S., not just in select states. However, at the same time, the Service undermined the cat’s recovery by excluding large swathes of its range from critical habitat.

Despite mounting evidence that lynx habitat is more expansive than previously thought, the Service announced it will exclude all occupied lynx habitat in the Southern Rockies—from southern Wyoming through Colorado and into northern New Mexico—from the species’ critical habitat designation. This decision also excludes important lynx habitat in parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and other states in the species’ historic, current, and available range.

“By ignoring huge swaths of currently occupied lynx habitat, the Service is undermining lynx recovery efforts,” said Drew Kerr, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “To help the species survive threats including climate change, motorized recreation, development, logging, fossil fuel extraction, and trapping, much more lynx habitat needs protection.”

The Service first listed lynx as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 2000. The listing protects individual lynx from harm. Under the ESA, the Service is also required to designate critical habitat to ensure the long-term survival and recovery of the species. However, the Service failed to designate any critical habitat for the species until 2006.

That designation was inadequate, and after two successful lawsuits brought by conservationists 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.

“Yesterday, we celebrated the Service extending the federal ESA protection of individual lynx from just a few select states to wherever they are found in the U.S.,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who represents the groups. “Unfortunately, at the same time the Service failed to adequately protect lynx habitat, threatening the future recovery of this imperiled wild cat.”

Although lynx habitat is under threat throughout the contiguous U.S., the Service’s new designation decreases protections by 2,593 square miles, to 38,954 square miles from the 41,547 square miles proposed for designation in 2013. The Service again excluded much of the cat’s last best habitat in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Oregon from protection, and failed to protect vast tracts in Maine, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Wyoming.

“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.”

Canada lynx, medium-sized members of the feline family, and one of the few felids native to North America, are habitat and prey specialists. Almost completely 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. Largely solitary, they require large ranges with forested corridors connecting patches of their preferred forest types. 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.

Matthew Bishop, of the Western Environmental Law Center, is representing WildEarth Guardians, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, and Wilderness Workshop in challenging the Service’s inadequate lynx critical habitat designation.

For more information on our work to protect Canada lynx under the ESA, click here.

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