Canada Lynx Critical Habitat Designation

Despite mounting evidence that lynx habitat is more expansive than previously thought, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced in 2014 that it would 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 excluded important lynx habitat in parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and other states in the species’ historic, current, and available range.

First listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 2000, lynx are afforded protections from harm, and so is its officially designated critical habitat. In the case of lynx, however, USFWS didn’t designate any critical habitat until 2006. That designation was inadequate, and after two successful lawsuits brought by conservationists in 2008 and 2010, a district court in Montana left USFWS’s meager lynx habitat protection in place, but remanded it to the agency for improvement. This resulted in little improvement and inadequate habitat for the lynx to have a fair shot at recovery.

We took USFWS to court and won. The U.S. District Court for the District of Montana ordered the USFWS to reconsider its decision to exclude the Canada lynx’s entire southern Rocky Mountain range from critical habitat designation. Our victory places this essential lynx habitat back on the table for protection. However, four years after our victory, the USFWS has not lifted a finger to comply with the court’s order to reexamine critical habitat designations. In July 2020, we sued the USFWS again over this dereliction of duty. This time, we’re seeking hard, legally binding deadlines for USFWS to publish a lynx critical habitat rule, along with frequent progress reports, also legally binding, due to the agency’s long record of negligence and delay on the subject of Canada lynx recovery actions.

Late in 2017, the USFWS proposed removing endangered species protections for Canada lynx altogether, declaring them recovered in the lower 48 states. Canada lynx are not recovered here. With fewer than 1,000 in the entire West, lynx require continued Endangered Species Act protection, and we will defend them in court if the USFWS moves forward with delisting.


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