FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tainted Canada Lynx Habitat Plan Needs Significant Revision
Elimination of habitat protections threatens lynx recovery
After admitting that its 2006 decision to designate critical habitat for Canada lynx was politically influenced, the Fish and Wildlife Service will conduct an internal review of the designation, but it has chosen not to discard the tainted plan. In response, Conservation Northwest announced today that it is prepared to bring legal action against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if it fails to promptly throw out its illegal plan and develop a scientifically-credible habitat designation that ensures lynx recovery.
After admitting that its 2006 decision to designate critical habitat for Canada lynx was politically influenced, the Fish and Wildlife Service will conduct an internal review of the designation, but it has chosen not to discard the tainted plan or allow transparent public participation in the review. In response, Conservation Northwest announced today that it is prepared to bring legal action against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) if it fails to promptly throw out its illegal plan and develop a scientifically-credible habitat designation that ensures lynx recovery.
The Canada lynx critical habitat designation is one of eight FWS decisions that the agency decided to review after determining that they had been improperly influenced by former Interior Department deputy assistant secretary Julie MacDonald. MacDonald, a political appointee who oversaw the FWS, resigned after the release of a critical report by the inspector general of Department of the Interior, which stated that she had “bullied, insulted, and harassed the professional staff … to change documents and alter biological reporting.”
“Washington State is home to one of the last and largest lynx populations left in the United States,” said Dave Werntz, science director for Conservation Northwest. “We have a responsibility to ensure that this magnificent animal continues to thrive and contribute to lynx recovery across the Pacific Northwest.”
All the areas in the 2006 habitat designation fall on National Park Service land, even though most lynx live in national forests and Washington State’s Loomis forest. FWS failed to designate any state or national forest land in Washington, despite its central importance to the lynx’s continued survival and eventual recovery. FWS claimed that various state and national forest lynx management guidelines justify refusing to designate any critical habitat for lynx on national forest lands, but these guidelines are weak and largely voluntary.
“After identifying lands needed for recovery, the Fish and Wildlife Service first excluded nearly all federal lands, then excluded many currently unoccupied areas that will be essential to long-term lynx survival, and finally failed to include several regions where lynx currently live,” said Werntz. “For the Bush administration, this may seem appropriate, but to biologists, this is a perfect recipe for the extinction of lynx.”
FWS biologists originally identified large areas of the West as critical to the survival of the lynx. Inexplicably, the Service then reduced the area identified as critical to lynx to 18,000 square miles in Maine, the Great Lakes states, and the northern Rockies/Cascades in 2005. According to FWS scientists, this proposed critical habitat represents only 11 percent of the lynx’s entire range in the lower 48 states. Of the 18,000 square miles of land FWS deemed essential to lynx conservation and recovery, only 1,841 square miles were finally designated in the 2006 critical habitat rule, slashing the original proposal by nearly 90 percent.
Habitat areas identified by FWS as important to the lynx, but that were left out of the designation, include the northern Cascades, the Kettle River Range, the Selkirks, an area north of Colville, Washington known as “The Wedge,” as well as areas in northern Maine, northern New Hampshire and Vermont, northeastern Minnesota, northwestern Montana and northeastern Idaho, and the greater Yellowstone area in the northern Rockies.
FWS first recognized the need to protect the lynx more than twenty years ago, but it took five successful lawsuits and nearly twenty years before the agency finally listed the lynx as “threatened” in 2000 under the Endangered Species Act. An additional two lawsuits were necessary before FWS designated the species’ critical habitat, also as required by the act.
Conservation Northwest is now challenging the failure of the FWS to list the lynx as an endangered species – instead, the agency chose the less-protective “threatened” designation. The best scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that the lynx is at risk of extinction throughout a significant part of its range, qualifying the lynx for the highest degree of protection the Endangered Species Act affords.
The lynx is the rarest of three cat species native to Washington. Lynx have large feet adapted to walking on snow, long legs, tufts on the ears, and black tipped tails. They occur in coniferous forests that have cold, snowy winters and support a robust prey base that likely includes snowshoe hare. Outside Alaska, lynx populations in the United States 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.
In September, 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a “preliminary” lynx recovery assessment that identified habitat in Washington needed to maintain and restore lynx populations over the long run. The Service identified core areas for lynx in the northern Cascades and Kettle Mountains (including the Wedge), and lands in the Selkirks (Little Pend Oreille and Salmon Priest) and southern Cascades that contribute to lynx recovery. Most of these areas were excluded in the final critical habitat designation in 2006.