by Karl Puckett, Tribune Staff Writer
A Stevensville couple is applying for a license from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to operate a facility to raise and sell captive bobcat and lynx 10 miles north of the western Montana town.
The proposal is opposed by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a group that’s fought to protect wild lynx, a threatened species, but one of the owners says the couple has no immediate plans to breed cats.
Gerald and Deborah Roe applied to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for a license to operate a commercial farm for the purpose of raising and selling bobcat and lynx and bobcat and lynx kittens to the public, according to an FWP environmental assessment checklist on the project.
Dimensions of the animal facility, made of woven wire, are 14-by-60-by-10. The inside enclosure is divided into six equal rectangular pens of 10-by-6-by-10. The individual pens have one gate that connects to an enclosed walkway. The walkway would by 4-by-60-by-10.
Deborah Roe she says owns six bobcats and lynx as pets and isn’t planning a large breeding operation or fur farm. She’s owned the cats, which are vaccinated, since 2005, most of them since they were kittens. She says hundreds of Montanans own bobcats and lynx.
“It’s not like I’m going into the kitten-breeding puppy mill-business by any means,” Roe said.
The cats are licensed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and also were licensed with the state when the couple lived in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, she said.
When the couple moved to Montana, they found that the state doesn’t require a permit to keep bobcats and lynx as pets, she said. Roe said she didn’t feel comfortable not having a license. In order to license the animals, she applied for a commercial fur farm license through FWP, she said. The license also gives the couple the option to breed and sell kittens in the future.
“As far as intent to breed, it may happen, but we have no definite plans,” she said.
The couple does not intend to raise cats for the pelts, she said.
The comment deadline for the application ended Thursday.
A previous comment deadline of May 10 was extended after Alliance for the Wild Rockies raised concerns about the application because wild lynx are a threatened species.
“The federal government has spent millions of dollars to try and protect lynx,” said Michael Garrity, executive director of the group. “It’s totally crazy for the state of Montana to permit a lynx farm where they are going to sell lynx and lynx kittens to the general public that could easily contaminate the wild population.”
Garrity said his biggest concern is that captive animals will eventually escape and contaminate the gene pool of wild animals or transmit disease. He also says that FWP should have consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is in charge of threatened and endangered species for the federal government.
Roe said no cats have escaped before.
Canada lynx are a medium-sized cat with big feet that make it adept at traveling in deep snow and tracking down its favorite meal, snowshoe hares. They also have distinctive short tails, facial ruffs and black tufts at the end of their ears.
General distribution of wild animals in Montana is the western third of the state including forested areas south and west of Great Falls.
In early 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Canada lynx as threatened in 16 states, including Montana.
In Montana, winter snow track surveys show numbers are healthy and the state is believed to support the healthiest population in the Lower 48.
It is illegal to possess, capture or sell most listed species under the Endangered Species Act, said Shawn Sartorius, lead listing and recovery biologists for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Montana Ecological Services Office in Helena. But when the rule listing lynx was published in 2000, a special provision was included allowing the continuation of captive breeding and selling of legally obtained lynx, Sartorius said.
“So the kinds of prohibitions that normally apply to endangered species do not apply to those kinds of operations,” he said.
Sartorius said FWP was not required to show FWS the lynx and bobcat proposal as long as it falls within the published listing rule. He said captive cats won’t have a positive or negative impact on conservation of wild lynx.
“As a general principle of animal husbandry you would want to keep that to a minimum,” he said of contact between domestic and wild animals and the possibility of disease transmission. “But you know, people’s pets can have a disease and come in contact with wild lynx. Lynx are not isolated from diseases that cats can give them from captivity. It’s not like a situation like they are completely removed from that threat and now this would be exposing them to a threat. While it’s a concern we don’t have reason right now it’s actually likely to occur.”
Garrity doesn’t think the farm should be licensed, but if it is, more restrictions should be in place to ensure the animals won’t end up in the wild, he said.
“They shouldn’t be able to sell an endangered species, which is lynx, for anybody who walks through the door,” he added.
FWP parks officials were not immediately available for comment.