FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Conservationists Seek Habitat Protections for Canada Lynx in Washington and Oregon
Failure to protect Kettle Range and other key landscapes undermines lynx recovery
The Western Environmental Law Center, representing Conservation Northwest and others, filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in federal court under the Endangered Species Act for inadequately protecting Canada lynx habitat, a threatened species.
Today, the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in federal court under the Endangered Species Act for inadequately protecting Canada lynx habitat, a threatened species, on behalf of Conservation Northwest, Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, and others. Canada lynx are a rare and elusive wildcat that depend on large pristine tracts of boreal forest habitat with ample snowshoe hare and persistent deep snow.
In September, the Service announced a two-part decision expanding the protection of individual cats to wherever they are found in the Lower 48, not just in select states. However, at the same time, the agency undermined the cat’s recovery by excluding crucial sections of its range from critical habitat designation, including the Kettle River Range in northeastern Washington.
The Kettle Range supported Washington’s most robust lynx populations until the 1980s, when they were trapped out. Situated between robust lynx populations in the North Cascades and Rocky Mountains, the Kettle Range is a key linkage in a string of lynx populations across western North America.
“With vast tracts of habitat and a long history of lynx presence, the Kettle Range in Washington deserves federal habitat protections,” said Jasmine Minbashian, communications director at Conservation Northwest. “Protecting the Kettle Range helps maintain vital habitat connections between lynx populations in the North Cascades and Rocky Mountains.”
Across the west, the rare wildcat’s population has been reduced by trapping and habitat loss, and critical habitat designation is essential to its survival and recovery. Despite mounting evidence that lynx habitat is more expansive than previously thought, the Service announced it will exclude all occupied lynx habitat in the Southern Rockies, and important lynx habitat in parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and other states in the species’ historic, current, and available range.
“Washington is home to a very important population of rare lynx, and Oregon contains large areas of lynx-compatible habitat that are important for the future recovery of these wild cats,” said John Mellgren, Attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “By excluding these areas, the Service is failing its obligation to ensure that lynx can recover across the American west.”
The Service first listed lynx as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 2000. The listing protects individual lynx from harm. Under the ESA, the Service is also required to designate critical habitat to ensure the long-term survival and recovery of the species. However, the Service failed to designate any critical habitat for the species until 2006. (Federal agencies are required to consult with the Service on actions they carry out, fund, or authorize to ensure that their actions will not destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. The designation does not impact private property.)
That designation was inadequate, and after two successful lawsuits brought by conservationists in 2008 and 2010, a district court in Montana left the Service’s meager lynx habitat protection in place, but remanded it to the agency for improvement. This resulted in still inadequate habitat designation.
Although lynx habitat is under threat throughout the contiguous U.S., the Service’s new designation again excluded much of the cat’s last best habitat in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Oregon from protection, and failed to protect vast tracts in Maine, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Wyoming. The new designation also failed to protect 2,593 square miles of lynx habitat that the Service originally proposed to protect in 2013.
“The Service, through this new rule, is attempting to protect just enough areas to prevent extinction,” said Nick Cady with Cascadia Wildlands. “This bare minimum effort by the agency is indicative of a troubling pattern of ignoring the mandate to recover species so that they no longer require federal protections.”
John Mellgren and Matthew Bishop, of the Western Environmental Law Center, are representing WildEarth Guardians, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, and Conservation Northwest in litigation challenging the Service’s inadequate lynx critical habitat designation.