AUGUSTA, Maine— A federally protected Canada lynx has been killed by a trap and nearly 20 others have been caught but not killed this fall, including five or six since the federal government’s approval last month of a trapping plan administered by the state of Maine. The state had sought a federal permit so that “incidental take” of lynx could occur without the state being subject to prosecution for violations of the Endangered Species Act. Court-approved protections stemming from a lawsuit in 2007 were in place until the finalization of the “incidental take permit” on Nov. 4. The new plan is less stringent than the prior court agreement, and includes more types of trapping activity, including larger, more harmful traps and snares.
“There are only a few hundred lynx left in Maine and yet they’re increasingly finding themselves caught in these painful traps. That’s no way to manage a threatened species,” said Mollie Matteson, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.
So far, 18 or 19 lynx have been caught in traps since the trapping season began on October 19. About five or six have been caught since the federal permit was finalized. Wildlife advocates have strongly criticized the state’s plan — and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s approval of it — that relies almost exclusively on trappers’ self-reporting in order to determine whether lynx have been injured or killed. Thousands of coyotes, bobcats, fishers, pine martens, skunks, beaver and other wildlife are killed in traps every year in Maine for the fur trade, or because they are considered nuisance animals.
“Lynx have been dying in traps, and they will continue to die that way, until their protection is a true priority for the federal and state governments,” said Daryl DeJoy, executive director of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine. "This is not a model for conservation of a threatened species; it’s a travesty.”
The Canada lynx is a wild cat 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 of lynx 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 of Maine’s coyote-snaring program to the lynx, the state and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service commenced 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.
Wildlife groups reject the near-exclusive reliance on trapper self-reporting as the means by which the state and the federal government monitor lynx take. Lynx activists say more active law enforcement, including unannounced inspections of trapper operations, as well as lynx exclusion devices on all killing traps, padded or offset trap jaws, and a ban on the use of chain drags and wire snares, are needed to ensure that the fewest lynx possible are hurt or killed in traps. In addition, wildlife advocates say the trapping plan should hold the state to a higher standard of proof than trapper self-reporting that lynx are not injured by trapping. A previous study of radio-collared lynx in Maine showed that after being caught by trappers, only three of six lynx survived a month.