by Rob Chaney of the Misoulian
Warmer weather will leave the endangered lynx isolated on islands of high-altitude habitat unless the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works to expand its critical territory, a group of wildlife advocates argues in court.
The Montana-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Sierra Club and two other conservation organizations sued the federal government Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Missoula. They claim the government knew climate change was going to be a problem for lynx, but failed to allocate enough critical habitat to ensure the wild cat’s survival.
“Lynx can’t get off the endangered species list if the different populations can’t connect,” Alliance for the Wild Rockies director Michael Garrity said Wednesday. While the lynx was allocated about 39,000 square miles in six states for critical habitat, those populations can’t interbreed or safely cross from one area to another, he said.
Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Diane Katzenberger said the agency does not comment on active litigation. But she did elaborate on the February decision that designated those areas as critical habitat.
“Lynx critical habitat is designated only on occupied population areas,” Katzenberger said. “Unoccupied areas weren’t considered critical.”
Katzenberger said that’s why, for example, Colorado did not get any territory designated as critical although the state wildlife agency is trying to reintroduce lynx there. So far, that effort has not been successful. But FWS would reconsider its decision if circumstances change, she said.
Sierra Club attorney Eric Huber said the groups hope the court will order a more wide-ranging reconsideration.
“The lynx is threatened by shrinking habitat, and the primary cause is global warming,” Huber said. “They’re going to need more protection for higher, snowy areas. But instead of dealing with that, they (FWS) put it off.”
The lynx is already on the federal threatened and endangered species list. Making land “critical habitat” means that whenever someone proposes making changes on designated federal land, the project must be reviewed for possible impacts on lynx populations.
The Canada lynx feeds mainly on snowshoe hares, and like the rabbit is adapted to live in snowy forests. One big question is whether habitat that could support lynx but doesn’t have any cat populations should be considered critical if it connects places that do have cats.
“We’re taking this action because the Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t deal with global warming in their action,” Huber said. “When they do, they must protect not just occupied areas, although that’s a great thing, but protect future areas the lynx will move into as their habitat shifts.”