After a lawsuit brought forth by wildlife advocacy groups, the Department of the Interior has agreed to keep federal protections in place for the Canada lynx. The court settlement was approved by a U.S. district judge in Montana on Monday, reports the Associated Press.
In 2018, wildlife officials said protections for the elusive predator were no longer needed in the lower 48, as lynx had recovered from population declines in select areas, notably in parts of Maine and Colorado. Canada lynx also are found in Montana, Minnesota, Idaho, Washington, and Michigan. Currently the Canada lynx is not protected in Alaska, where its population fluctuates cyclically because the predators is “tied to hare population cycles,” according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Lynx in Alaska “are considered common in the areas where they occur.”
That 2018 announcement was based on the completion of a scientific review that concluded “that the Canada lynx may no longer warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and should be considered for delisting due to recovery,” according to the USFWS website. This recommendation is the result of an extensive review of the best available scientific information and almost 20 years of working in partnership with state, federal, tribal, industry and other land managers on the conservation of this species.”
Despite the agency’s conclusions, some researchers and wildlife observers sued to keep the wild cats protected as a federal threatened species. The suit argued that climate change would have an adverse effect on Canada lynx because there will be less snow in their range, which affects distribution of the big cats. Reduced snow also diminishes snowshoe hare populations, which Canada Lynx depend on for an important food source.
Lynx population status is uncertain because the animals are such elusive critters with a cyclical population. This forces officials concerned about the species to use data based on lynx habitat and snowshoe hare numbers to gauge Canada lynx population estimates.
Federal protections for the Canada lynx have disrupted road building and logging in the West, according to the AP, which has frustrated stakeholders and lawmakers out West. The 2018 recommendation to end protections for the medium-sized cat occurred when USFWS “biologists shortened the government’s time span for considering climate change threats, from 2100 to 2050, because of what officials said were uncertainties in long-term climate models,” reports the AP. A new Canada lynx recovery proposal is slated for 2024 under the terms of the settlement that was approved by the district judge in Montana earlier this week.