In response to two lawsuits, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has again proposed protected critical habitat for the Canada lynx. The proposed 26.6 million acres spread across six states expands a 2009 designation, including additional areas in northeastern Maine and northwestern Wyoming.
“Like many animals, Canada lynx need quiet places free of disturbance from snowmobiles and other human activities to survive, so we’re thrilled the Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed expanding their critical habitat,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These unique cats need every acre of the critical habitat designated and more if they are to avoid extinction in the United States.”
The new designation responds to court challenges from the Wyoming and Washington State Snowmobile Associations and conservation groups. The snowmobilers had sought to nullify critical habitat, but instead the court ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to redo aspects of its economic analysis. Three conservation groups—the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice and Conservation Northwest—intervened in that suit to ensure continued protection of lynx habitat. Separately, the Sierra Club and Alliance for the Wild Rockies challenged the designation for not encompassing a sufficient area.
The rare wildcat’s population has been reduced by trapping and habitat loss, and critical habitat designation is essential to its survival and recovery. The designation requires that federal agencies ensure their actions will not adversely modify or destroy the lynx’s critical habitat, including by building and maintaining trails for snowmobilers. Today’s proposal would increase the 2009 designation, which included 24,960,000 acres, by a total of 1,630,000 acres, including the new areas in Maine and Wyoming. The Service, however, also said today it is considering excluding 1,225,600 acres on tribal, state and private lands based on management of these lands.
As part of the proposal, Fish and Wildlife is requesting input on extending protections to lynx habitat in the Kettle Range in northeast Washington, as well as in Colorado, New Hampshire and elsewhere. Washington’s most robust populations occurred in the Kettles through the 1980s, when they were trapped out. The Kettle Range also provides important habitat connectivity between the North Cascade and Rocky Mountain lynx populations. At the west end of lynx range, Washington’s populations depend on occasional genetic and demographic interchange with lynx in the Rockies and Canada for long-term survival.
“With vast tracts of habitat and a long history of lynx presence, the Kettle Range in Washington deserves federal habitat protections,” said Dave Werntz, science and conservation director at Conservation Northwest. “Protecting the Kettle Range helps maintain vital habitat connections between lynx populations in the North Cascades and Rocky Mountains.”
“Lynx need habitat to survive,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who represented the conservation groups in defending the critical habitat from the snowmobilers’ court challenge. “We’re relieved legal protections are staying in place to protect the habitat that is critical for the conservation of this rare forest cat.”
Earthjustice submitted the legal intervention request on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Friends of the Wild Swan, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and the Lands Council.