Idaho won't have to alter trap rules to protect Canada lynx

Image courtesy of Idaho Fish and Game. Candadian lynx at bate station
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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho doesn't need to change trapping regulations where federally protected Canada lynx are likely to be caught in traps set for bobcats, a federal court said in a decision that reversed its earlier ruling.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill on Wednesday said he was reconsidering his prior decision based on new evidence put forward by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service making clear the agency allows the incidental capture of lynx that are released unharmed.

The federal agency exempting lynx caught by licensed trappers targeting bobcats, Winmill wrote, "makes it far less likely that illegal takes will occur in the future."

"We are pleased with the ruling because it validates the state's position that authorized trapping in Idaho is not a threat to the lynx population," Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter — one of the Idaho officials named in the lawsuit — said in a statement.

The Center for Biological Diversity is one of the groups that initiated the lawsuit against Otter, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and other state officials in 2014.

The court in January 2016 ordered Idaho to alter trapping regulations in the Panhandle and Clearwater regions in northern Idaho. Idaho officials asked the court to reconsider, and trapping regulations remained unchanged concerning lynx while the case played out, leading to Wednesday's ruling.

"We are disappointed," said Andrea Santarsiere, senior attorney with the center. "I think the reality is this means more lynx might be killed in Idaho and that's certainly not the outcome we were hoping for."

She said the groups are reviewing the ruling and haven't decided their next move.

Canada lynx, about the size of bobcats but with huge paws to help them navigate deep snow, have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 2002.

Winmill's ruling on Wednesday focused on new evidence from Bridget Fahey of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Winmill said the new evidence makes it clear that Fahey has the authority to speak on behalf of the federal agency, which Winmill said wasn't obvious in previous court documents.

That meant, Winmill said, that Fahey's testimony makes it clear the agency views documents called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement as exempting from the Endangered Species Act the incidental capture of lynx by Idaho trappers targeting bobcats. The international trade document is an agreement between governments intended to prevent wiping out plants and animals.

The federal agency said there's no limit on the number of lynx that can be captured and released unharmed.

Winmill noted in his ruling there were only four reported lynx trappings in Idaho, and three of those fell under the exemption. The one that didn't involve the 2014 capture of a lynx by a trapper targeting wolves.

The Idaho Trappers Association intervened in the case out of concern lynx-related restrictions would limit trapping for other species, including wolves.

"It's a backdoor way of trying to shut down trapping," said Rusty Kramer, the group's president. "A lot of this is uneducated people thinking these foothold traps are killing animals. It's just catching them by the paw, and they can be turned loose."

By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) —
Wildlife officials in the United States declared Canada lynx recovered on Thursday and said the snow-loving wild cats no longer need special protections following steps to preserve their habitat.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said it will begin drafting a rule to revoke the lynx's threatened listing across the Lower 48 state under the Endangered Species Act. Wildlife advocates said they would challenge the move in court.

First imposed in 2000, the threatened designation has interrupted numerous logging and road building projects on federal lands, frustrating industry groups and Western lawmakers.

Some scientists and wildlife advocates have warned that climate change could reduce lynx habitat and the availability of its primary food source — snowshoe hares.

Thursday's decision came after government biologists shortened their time span for considering climate change threats, from 2100 to 2050, because of what they said were uncertainties in long-term climate models.

An assessment by government biologists based on that shorter time span concluded lynx populations remain resilient and even have increased versus historical levels in parts of Colorado and Maine.

Canada lynx are about the size bobcats, but with huge paws to help them navigate deep snow. The animals also are found in Montana, Minnesota, Idaho and Washington state.

There's no reliable estimate of their population, leaving officials to rely on information about habitat and hare populations to gauge the species' status

"Based on what we know, we think the habitat has improved, protections around the habitat have improved, and therefore lynx populations have improved," said Jodi Bush, U.S. Fish and Wildlife field supervisor in Montana.

In Maine, officials said, easements protecting more than 2 million acres of forest have benefited lynx. In Western states, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management adopted land management plans providing similar benefits, they said.

Under an earlier assessment of lynx, published in December 2016, U.S. government biologists predicted some populations would disappear by 2100. That was based on models predicting widespread and substantial changes to the animals' snowy habitat due to climate change.

Bush said those models turned out to be too uncertain to justify using them as a basis for whether lynx are recovered.

A similar conclusion was reached by the agency in 2014 for another snow-loving creature — the North American wolverine. In that case, a federal judge overruled rejected the government's decision not to give wolverines protections, saying the animal was "squarely in the path of climate change."

Wildlife advocates said Thursday's announcement was similarly flawed.

"The earlier finding was that lynx remain in danger and are likely to be exterminated by the end of the century. Since that's the best science, then we need to follow that," said Matthew Bishop with the Western Environmental Law Center.

Two Republican lawmakers from Montana — U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte and Sen. Steve Daines — said they welcomed the move toward lifting protections. Daines said the recovery would result in better management of public forests and reflected years of collaboration between states, tribes, conservation groups, hunters and others.

No timeline has been set for when lynx protections could be lifted, said Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Jennifer Strickland.
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