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Lynx Habitat Excluded

Bush administration intervenes at last minute to block lynx recovery effort

Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public input on a controversial proposal to exempt from federal protection most habitat areas that are critical to the recovery of Canada lynx.

Twisp, WA Jan 19, 2006

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public input on a controversial proposal to exempt from federal protection most habitat areas that are critical to the recovery of Canada lynx. The agency held a hearing in Twisp last night to hear testimony on a new nationwide plan for lynx that includes Washington State. The Twisp meeting was the only one scheduled for the state.

Sue Coleman, a long-time resident of Republic, Washington was one of the seventy people who turned out to offer testimony. “It’s a privilege to live in a place where we have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of this beautiful wildcat.” Coleman explained, “Along with this privilege comes a responsibility to be good stewards of the lands these animals need to live and prosper. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not taking this responsibility seriously enough.”

In September, 2005, the Service identified core areas for lynx in the northern Cascades and Kettle Mountains, and lands in the Selkirks (Little Pend Oreille and Salmon Priest) and southern Cascades were essential to lynx recovery. The Service also identified other lynx habitat needed for recovery in the northern and southern Rockies, Great Lakes, and Northeast.

Three weeks later, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed eliminating all federal lands from the Endangered Species Act’s critical habitat protections. In Washington, the vast majority of lynx habitat, including the entire Colville National Forest, would be excluded from these protections.

The Methow Valley News reported that this exclusion was a decision made at the top levels of the Bush Administration. "The decision to remove Forest Service land was made at the last minute by someone in Washington, D.C.," said Tom Buckley of the Upper Columbia office of the USFWS. "It’s been determined that Forest Service lands already have some management practices in place right now that will satisfy the requirement to protect lynx critical habitat," he said.

Critical habitat is designated under the Endangered Species Act to promote recovery of wildlife, such as lynx, that are threatened with extinction. In Okanogan and Chelan County, home to Washington’s strongest lynx populations, the Bush proposal eliminates these protections across 93 percent of lynx habitat.

“Habitat is the key to wildlife,” said Dave Werntz, science and conservation director for Conservation Northwest. “Without habitat, there is no lynx."


The lynx was listed as threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act in 2000. Once widespread through all of Washington’s mountain ranges, our lynx population has been reduced to just a few dozen that now live in the northern Cascades, Kettles and Selkirk Mountains.

The lynx is one of the rarest of three cat species native to Washington. They have large feet adapted to walking on snow, long legs, tufts on the ears, and black tipped tails. Lynx occur in coniferous forests that have cold, snowy winters and support a robust prey base that likely include snowshoe hare. Outside Alaska, lynx populations in the US have been reduced to a few remaining strongholds in the Rocky Mountains (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming; Colorado, New Mexico and Utah), northern Minnesota, Maine, and Washington.

While the Service has not prepared much needed recovery plans for the Canada lynx, or even described the number and distribution of lynx that would ensure their long-term survival and recovery, designation of critical habitat is an essential first step to restore lynx. Critical habitat designation is important because it calls for federal biologists to identify habitat areas that provide for essential life functions, and to protect them from potentially harmful actions, like timber sales. Studies have shown that plants and animals with critical habitat have recovered significantly better than those that lack the designation.

 On the Okanogan–Wenatchee National Forest, critical habitat designations for lynx would be replaced by a “Lynx Conservation Assessment and Strategy.” But the Lynx Strategy offers limited benefits for lynx: it expires in 2006, and most of its habitat reviews have not been completed. Unlike critical habitat designations, the Lynx Strategy offer much less than a full recovery – its unrealized goal is only to halt further slide toward extinction.

Endangered wildlife simply maintained at very low population levels will continue to face grave threat of extinction.

 For a copy of the lynx critical habitat proposal, please visit:

 For more information, visit:



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