Wildlife conservation organizations are taking legal action to protect one of the rarest cats in the United States from continuing to be inadvertently harmed and killed by trappers in Idaho.
This week, five organizations filed a lawsuit in federal court against Governor Butch Otter and other wildlife officials arguing that the state is violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by granting permits that illegally allow trapping and killing of Canada lynx, who were listed as threatened under the ESA in 2000.
“With lynx being pushed to the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states, it’s shameful that Idaho officials have just sat idly by for years,” said Amy Atwood of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Idaho can’t just ignore federal law and go on condoning the trapping of this rare and magnificent cat.”
The lynx population in Idaho is estimated to be as few as 100, and their advocates are worried that losing more of them will isolate other populations, which will hurt their overall chances of survival. Now, these elusive cats move back and forth between the United States and Canada, especially around Montana, Washington and Colorado.
“Idaho officials need to understand that a healthy Idaho population of this mountain cat is critical, not just to lynx survival here, but across the western United States,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of the Western Watershed Project. “We have to maintain a healthy breeding mix between Rockies and Canadian populations, and Idaho sits at the crossroads.”
Unfortunately, trappers in Idaho are currently granted permits to kill a number of species, including bobcats, beavers, muskrats, mink, marten, otters and wolves, who all share a habitat with lynx and the state has not taken any action to stop or regulate trapping in their designated critical habitat, or areas they’re known to occupy.
Trappers are also allowed to use a variety of cruel devices, including leghold traps, Conibear or body-gripping traps, and snares, which we all know by now don’t discriminate. For lynx, who already face other threats, from less snow to human-related activities, including logging and development, this is a recipe for disaster.
At least three cases of lynx being caught in traps have been confirmed in the last two years, while one was shot and killed after being mistaken for a bobcat. Even though it’s illegal to harm, harass or kill federally protected species, trappers aren’t required under state law to report catches unless the lynx dies so the numbers are believed to be a low estimate.
The organizations suing hope to compel the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to come up with a conservation plan that will minimize incidental trapping of lynx, which includes putting restrictions on types of traps used, adding reporting requirements and requiring trappers to check their traps every day throughout lynx habitat.
Separately, other groups are also trying to help lynx by urging a judge to get the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to finish a recovery plan for them, which it’s had over a decade to do, but still hasn’t completed.
Following a lawsuit, the FWS announced it would have it done by 2018, but lynx advocates don’t think that’s fast enough and are asking Judge Donald Molloy to order the agency to finish it by 2016. While a pending proposal would give them 26 million acres of public land as critical habitat, their advocates worry that without a recovery plan in place to ensure their survival, it won’t be enough.
Hopefully the recovery plan will be finished sooner than later and Idaho will get in step with federal regulations to help keep these rare cats from disappearing.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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