Deaths Expose Fatal Flaws in Federally Issued Trapping Permits
AUGUSTA, Maine— A second Canada lynx has died in a trap in Maine, triggering an emergency prohibition on certain types of trapping in lynx habitat in the state. The lynx deaths come less than a month after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a federal permit to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife allowing the state to conduct its recreational trapping program in areas occupied by the lynx, a federally threatened species. The permit allowed for a total of three lynx mortalities over the 15-year permit period.
“There’s no doubt that both federal and state wildlife officials knew lynx could get caught in these killer-type traps, because there was photo documentation to prove it,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But they recklessly ignored the facts and succumbed to pressure to approve this trapping permit.”
Both lynx were killed in conibear traps on leaning poles, a type of trap setup used to capture fisher and marten that usually kills within minutes. Trappers typically set a leaning pole diagonally against a nearby tree. Fisher and marten run up the poles, lured by bait or scent placed on the far side of the trap, which is attached to the pole. The state of Maine claimed that the use of narrow-diameter, more steeply inclined leaning poles, with traps placed at least four feet off the ground, would prevent lynx from accessing the traps. But the Fish and Wildlife Service tested this setup with captive lynx and found that they could readily get at the traps, despite the narrow poles and height of the traps off the ground.
Despite that, Fish and Wildlife issued an incidental-take permit to Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife last month. The permit included the flawed setup for elevated conibear traps that the Service had documented did not work to prevent lynx accessing the traps. Already nearly 20 lynx have been captured this trapping season, several since the permit was approved, including the two known to have been directly killed. The permit stipulates that up to 195 lynx may be caught during the 15-year permit period, including up to three lethal captures, and up to nine incidents of major but nonlethal injury.
The second lynx mortality this month triggers a clause in the permit forcing the state to take immediate action to reduce the risk of another mortality. The state responded by prohibiting the use of the conibear traps, as well as foothold traps in elevated setups, within zones occupied by lynx. Conibears may still be used if set on the ground with “lynx exclusion devices,” and foothold traps may still be used if set on the ground.
“I’m glad the state has been forced, at least for now, to ban the killer-type traps on leaning poles, but it’s terrible that it took two dead lynx in one month to get the rule in place that should have been there from the get-go,” said Daryl DeJoy, executive director of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine.
The Canada lynx is a wildcat of northern latitudes and snowy climes. It weighs between 14 and 31 pounds, has large, furred paws, long, black ear tufts, and a short, black-tipped tail. In the lower 48 states, it is found only in a few areas, including Washington state, the northern Rockies and Minnesota. In the Northeast the only breeding population is in northern Maine, where several hundred live.
The lynx was listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2000. Because of the threat posed by Maine’s coyote-snaring program to lynx, the state and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service began negotiations on an incidental-take permit in 2002. A lawsuit brought by wildlife groups against the state’s trapping program a few years later led to an interim plan for lynx protection, until the Fish and Wildlife Service approved Maine’s permit application for the “incidental take” of lynx under the trapping program.