by Eve Byron
Nine environmental groups notified the Department of the Interior Friday that they plan to file a lawsuit over the most recent designation of critical habitat for Canada lynx.
Generally speaking, the groups don’t believe that enough land was included in the final revised critical habitat designation for lynx that was issued last month by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
The groups plan on suing the Interior Department unless the critical habitat range is expanded.
Garrity points to MacDonald Pass west of Helena as an example. Lands on the north side of Highway 12, all the way to the Canadian border, are designated as critical habitat. Lands on the south side of the highway are not.
“We have a picture of a dead lynx on the high-way,” Garrity said. “They don’t stop at MacDonald Pass. They’re in the Beaverhead/Deerlodge forest, in the Big Belts and Bitterroot mountains and the Lewis and Clark National Forest, none of which is listed as critical habitat.”
“They need those connecting corridors for lynx through Yellowstone and down to the southern Rockies.”
The final rule was released in response to a court order issued in 2007, after the USFWS acknowledged that disgraced Department of Interior official Julie MacDonald inappropriately interfered in the original lynx critical habitat designation. The revised habitat designation expands the amount of lynx habitat from the earlier rule, but the nine groups say significant portions of critical lynx habitat essential to the species’ recovery remain unprotected.
Canada lynx in the lower 48 states were listed under the Endangered Species Act as a “threatened” species in 2000, due to potential impacts by recreation, logging and road construction. They’re known to reside in Montana, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Michigan, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
In the contiguous United States, lynx historically occurred in the Cascades Range of Washington and Oregon; the Rocky Mountain Range in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, northern Utah, and Colorado; the western Great Lakes Region; and the northeastern United States region from Maine southwest to New York.
The Canada lynx is a medium-sized cat with long legs, large paws, long tufts on its ears, and a short, black-tipped tail. Bobcats are a smaller, North American relative of the Canada lynx.
The conservation groups who sent the letter to the Department of the Interior includes Garrity’s organization, Colorado Wild, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Wilderness Workshop, Friends of the Wild Swan, Native Ecosystem Council, the Sierra Club, and WildEarth Guardians.
They also hope to include in the designation lynx habitat in the southern Rocky Mountains, where lynx were reintroduced in 1999. Biologists say the cats have re-established themselves in the region, with more than 100 lynx kittens being born in the wild.
“Lynx are thriving in the Southern Rocky Mountains today thanks to the efforts of the State of Colorado and countless citizens who care about our native wildlife,” said Paige Bonaker, staff biologist for Center for Native Ecosystems. “However, lynx will never fully recover here until we protect their forest habitat in Colorado, southern Wyoming and northern New Mexico.”
The groups believe areas of northeast Washington also are wrongfully excluded from the critical habitat designation.
Garrity said the designation doesn’t preclude activities in those areas, but simply calls for land managers to formally consult with the USFWS when projects are proposed.
“They just have to make sure activities are not doing any harm to the habitat,” Garrity said. “Without the designation, they can just say that whatever they’re doing will not cause the extinction of the species. It’s a much higher bar.”