Today, a coalition of conservation organizations secured a legal settlement that will aid threatened Canada lynx recovery: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will abandon plans to remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the struggling snow cat in the contiguous U.S. and initiate recovery planning for the species after nearly 20 years of delay. Today’s agreement stems from a legal challenge wildlife advocates brought against the Service for its failure to prepare a recovery plan for threatened Canada lynx over this extended period.
The tentative date for a final recovery plan is December 1, 2024.
“This is the right decision,” said Matthew Bishop, senior attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “It’s nice to see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reverse course, apply the best available climate science, and put its time and energy into recovery planning for the species. The Service now has about three years to finalize a recovery plan. This sets the agency up for success in terms of a legally sound, science-based plan while the Biden administration is still in charge. This is a victory for lynx, science, and for everyone who values healthy ecosystems.”
Recovery plans are important tools required by the ESA, often referred to as the “roadmap” for conservation because they spell out what the agency needs to do to recover a species and how best to do it. Recovery plans also include metrics that must be met before the Service may deem a species recovered.
“Lynx require the protections of the Endangered Species Act because threats from massive logging projects and climate change are degrading and fragmenting their habitat,” said Arlene Montgomery, program director for Friends of the Wild Swan. “They deserve a recovery plan that contains measurable criteria to address those threats and make sure that their populations increase, not decline to extinction.”
“For more than 20 years, we’ve been waiting for a lynx recovery plan,” said Peter Hart of Wilderness Workshop. “It’s a huge relief that this administration is finally committing to get one done. Recovery is the goal of the Endangered Species Act, and we’re hoping this bodes well for the long-term viability of sensitive lynx populations.”
“Lynx are surviving today in Colorado and its surrounding states thanks to the Endangered Species Act protections and efforts of the State of Colorado and countless citizens who care about our native wildlife,” said Paige Singer, conservation biologist at Rocky Mountain Wild. “The Fish and Wildlife Service providing clear recovery goals that serve to coordinate conservation among the various state and federal agencies involved in lynx management is critical to their recovery in the lower 48 states.”
“Lynx should be in Oregon. They have been in Oregon. It’s part of their historic range. The Fish and Wildlife Service returning to the best science and committing to create a recovery plan is essential to lynx recovery in Oregon, and we are happy to see this progress toward that goal,” said Danielle Moser, Wildlife Program coordinator for Oregon Wild.
“We’re glad to see that the Biden administration is taking steps in the right direction by agreeing to draft a recovery plan that will finally give the Canada lynx a chance at recovery,” said Lindsay Larris, Wildlife Program director at WildEarth Guardians. “We are hopeful that this decision is a harbinger of things to come from a Fish and Wildlife Service that will consider how to best protect species in the face of climate change, and will rely on science and not politics in taking bold action to prevent extinction.”
“The recent announcement from the Fish and Wildlife Service that 23 species went extinct drives home that listing a species is not enough to prevent their demise: We must use the tools outlined in the law and put resources toward bringing them back from the brink,” said Bethany Cotton, conservation director for Cascadia Wildlands. “Today’s settlement means the Service will — at long last — finally prioritize making lynx resilient in the face of ongoing threats by initiating a science-based recovery planning process and finishing it within a reasonable time.”
“Lynx are in more trouble now in the West than ever before,” said Bishop. “Due to climate change, related warming, and longer fire seasons, we’re seeing significant losses of lynx habitat in the few places that still support lynx. We’re also seeing range contraction, increased fragmentation, and decreases in population numbers in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming,” said Bishop. “Lynx were reintroduced into the Southern Rocky Mountains in 1999 — which is helpful and needed. They appear to be doing okay, but the population remains very small and isolated and, as such, extremely vulnerable. Now is to time to focus on recovery planning and designating critical habitat. Kudos to the Fish and Wildlife Service for reversing course on Canada lynx,” Bishop added.
In 2013, conservation organizations sued the Service for failing to prepare a recovery plan for threatened lynx, following nearly 14 years of delay. The court agreed and directed the agency to prepare a recovery plan by January 2018.
A month before the January 2018 deadline, however, the Service decided to forgo preparing a recovery plan on the theory that lynx are already “recovered” and no longer threatened in the contiguous U.S. The Service said it would therefore focus its time and energy on delisting and removing protections for the species, rather than recovery planning.
Lynx and their habitat are threatened by climate change, wildfires, logging, development, motorized access and trapping, which disturb and fragment the landscape. Lynx rely heavily on snowshoe hare, and like their preferred prey, are specially adapted to living in mature boreal forests with dense cover and deep snowpack. Climate change may also increase hare predation from other species, resulting in increased competition and displacement of lynx.
Since designating Canada lynx as threatened under the Endangered Species Act 20 years ago in 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has gone to extraordinary lengths to deny protections to the big cat. The agency had to be sued to list the species, amend the species’ listing status (to cover all of its range in the contiguous United States), prepare a recovery plan, and to designate critical habitat. WELC litigation prompted many of these actions.