BOZEMAN, Mont.— In response to two lawsuits, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today finalized protected critical habitat for the Canada lynx. The 24.9 million acres are spread across six states, including Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Washington and Wyoming. Although the designation provides vast, much-needed protection for the beautiful cats, it is slightly smaller than a 2009 designation, excluding just over 1.6 million acres that incorporated some important areas identified by scientists and conservationists, including the southern Rockies in Colorado and the Kettle Range in northeast Washington.
“I’m glad such a large area has been protected for my favorite big cat, the Canada lynx,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These unique cats face a broad array of threats, including snowmobiles, trapping, development and now climate change. They need every acre of critical habitat that was designated, and more, if they’re going to avoid extinction in the United States.”
The new designation responds to court challenges from the Wyoming and Washington State Snowmobile Associations and conservation groups. The snowmobilers had sought to nullify critical habitat, but instead the court ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to redo aspects of its economic analysis. The Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest and other conservation groups represented by Earthjustice, intervened in that suit to ensure continued protection of lynx habitat. Separately, the Sierra Club and Alliance for the Wild Rockies challenged the designation for not encompassing a sufficient area.
Conservation groups are troubled by some of the areas left out of the designation. The Kettle Range in northeast Washington, for example, has vast tracts of quality habitat and a long, continuous record of lynx presence, including a sighting in July. Situated between the North Cascades and northern Rocky Mountains, the Kettle Range serves as a key linkage in an archipelago of lynx populations across the Pacific Northwest. At the western edge of lynx range, Washington’s lynx populations depend on occasional genetic and demographic interchange with lynx in the Rockies and Canada for long-term survival. Designating critical habitat in the Kettle Range is integral to the conservation of lynx populations across the West.
“The high-quality lynx habitat in the Kettle River Range deserves federal protections,” said Dave Werntz, science and conservation director at Conservation Northwest. “Lynx were once abundant in northeast Washington but have not recovered from historic over-trapping, breaking the link in the network of lynx populations deemed essential for recovery.”
The rare wildcat’s population has been reduced by trapping and habitat loss, and critical habitat designation is essential to its survival and recovery. The designation requires that federal agencies ensure their actions will not adversely modify or destroy the lynx’s critical habitat, including by building and maintaining trails for snowmobilers.
Earthjustice submitted the legal intervention request on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Friends of the Wild Swan, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and the Lands Council.