New Regulations in Lynx Habitat Will Protect Montana’s Rare Cats


Yesterday, the federal district court of Montana approved a settlement agreement reached between the State of Montana and conservation groups aimed at protecting threatened Canada lynx from trapping. The case is now dismissed in accordance with the agreement, which requires Montana to implement a set of reasonable restrictions on trapping in lynx habitat. The agreement also keeps the wolverine trapping season closed in Montana. The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the settlement’s new regulations in July but the agreement required approval by the court.

In 2013 Friends of the Wild Swan, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and WildEarth Guardians, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, sued Montana for its failure to ensure imperiled lynx are not caught in traps. Lynx are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, making it illegal to trap a lynx regardless of whether another animal was targeted or whether the lynx is killed, injured or released. At least 15 lynx were caught in traps in Montana since 2001, the most recent in December 2014. These are only the reported incidents. At least five of these trapping incidents were fatal.

“The settlement should keep threatened lynx out of traps and further lynx recovery in Montana,” said Western Environmental Law Center Attorney Matthew Bishop. “This is something we all want. Common-sense solutions for situations like this often exist and I commend Montana for its willingness to explore and eventually adopt such solutions in this case.”

Today’s approval of the settlement agreement illustrates that contentious litigation can translate into a positive cooperative process in order to achieve mutual success –– protecting imperiled lynx. The settlement establishes a “lynx protection zone” in occupied lynx habitat in northwest Montana and the Greater Yellowstone region. The lynx protection zone restricts the size and placement of traps and snares that catch and sometimes kill lynx, and requires bobcat trappers to check their traps at least once every 48 hours. The use of fresh meat or feathers as bait is now prohibited in the lynx protection zone.

According to the best available science, these changes will significantly reduce or eliminate the risk of accidental lynx trapping and will decrease the likelihood of serious injury or death to the species if caught.

The agreement maintains the current closure of the wolverine trapping season in Montana for an additional two years with a requirement to consider the best available science before the season can be re-opened. It also includes enhanced monitoring and reporting, as well as a commitment from the state to meet with conservationists and update the regulations or the lynx protection zone boundary if more than one future lynx-trapping incident occurs.

“This is a positive step to limit incidental harm to lynx and other wildlife in Montana,” said Arlene Montgomery, program director for Friends of the Wild Swan. 

“Lynx have been headed down the path to extinction partly because they were being illegally killed in traps set for other animals,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “We hope the measures stipulated in this agreement will mean the end of the incidental killing of lynx and will help Montana’s lynx population recover sufficiently to eventually be delisted as a protected species.”

“Implementing basic precautions to protect these wildcats from cruel traps is long overdue,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “The court’s dismissal and approval of these common-sense restrictions will aid the long-term recovery and survival of this iconic species.”

First listed in 1999, lynx are threatened by trapping, climate change, habitat fragmentation, and old growth logging.

Judge Christiansen had this to say about the case: “The fact that, as a result of the regulatory changes, Defendant Intervenors and other trappers may be left with obsolete traps, will have to check their traps more frequently, and may ultimately trap fewer animals, does not constitute formal legal prejudice sufficient to torpedo the parties’ compromise. This is especially true given that, at this point in time, Defendant-Intervenors’ remaining dispute lies, if at all, with Defendants and not with Plaintiffs – there is simply no live case or controversy between the parties as initially aligned in this matter, and no way to address Defendant-Intervenors’ alleged injuries by keeping this matter on life support.”

A copy of the dismissal order is available here.

A map of the lynx protection zone is available here.

Read more about our lynx work in Montana here.

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