The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Montana Trappers Association’s appeal of a settlement agreement between Friends of the Wild Swan, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, WildEarth Guardians, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks that protects lynx from being caught in traps set for other animals.
“This decision means Montana will continue to implement the terms of our settlement to safeguard lynx from trapping in the ‘lynx protection zones’ as long as lynx are listed under the Endangered Species Act,” said Matthew Bishop with the Western Environmental Law Center. “This decision vindicates the settlement, and will benefit lynx and wolverine recovery, critical to Montana’s wildlands.”
The settlement agreement — finalized in September 2015 — establishes a “lynx protection zone” in occupied lynx habitat in northwest Montana and the Greater Yellowstone area. In the lynx protection zone, trapping regulations restrict the size and placement of different types of traps and snares that have caught and sometimes killed federally protected Canada lynx. The agreement also prohibits the use of fresh meat or feathers as bait and mandates bobcat trappers check their traps at least once every 48 hours.
According to the best available science, these changes will significantly reduce and hopefully eliminate the risk of lynx being trapped and limit the possibility of serious injury or mortality if a lynx is caught.
“The agreement is a common-sense approach to protecting lynx from cruel, indiscriminate traps,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “The restrictions in place under the settlement are working just as anticipated and will continue to protect lynx, despite the trappers’ baseless attempts to undermine safeguards for the imperiled cats.”
The agreement also maintains the current closure of the wolverine trapping season in Montana with a requirement to consider the best available science before the season can be re-opened. It also requires enhanced monitoring and reporting, and a commitment from the state to meet with the conservationists and make changes—either to the trapping regulations or the lynx protection zone boundary—if more than one future lynx trapping incident occurs.
The Montana Trappers Association intervened in the original conservation group lawsuit against Fish, Wildlife and Parks that alleged lynx in Montana were being killed in traps set for other animals, a violation of the Endangered Species Act. The trappers disagreed with the settlement agreement and appealed it to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In its August 3, 2017 decision, the Court of Appeals ruled that the trappers lacked standing to bring the appeal and they were not precluded from influencing the regulatory process.
“This was a frivolous appeal brought because the trappers didn’t like the settlement agreement,” said Arlene Montgomery, program director for Friends of the Wild Swan. “They would prefer to have unregulated trapping in imperiled lynx habitat. We are glad the court dismissed their case.”
Since the conservationists and FWP reached the settlement agreement, only one Canada lynx was reported caught in a trap in Montana. The trapped lynx was caught outside the lynx protection zone where the trapping restrictions are not in effect.
The Canada lynx — a medium-sized wild cat with a thick coat and broad paws — was listed as threatened under the ESA in 1999. Lynx are old growth forest-dependent and the species’ population has fallen due to trapping, climate change, and logging.