by Karl Puckett, Tribune Staff Writer
Four conservation groups served notice of intent to sue the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission on Tuesday over the incidental trapping of the rare forest-dwelling Canada lynx, a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act.
Under certain circumstances, the taking of protected species — injuring or killing inadvertently — is allowed but an incidental “take” permit must be received from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to WildEarth Guardians, The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Wild Swan and Native Ecosystems Council.
The groups said they want the state to apply for a take permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which enforces the Endangered Species Act.
They also are asking the state to ensure that trapping for other animals in lynx habitat does not accidentally kill or injure lynx, said Mike Garrity, executive director of The Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
One option would be the use of modified traps that wouldn’t break the bones of lynx if they are accidentally caught, Garrity said. “That’s something they have to work out with the Fish and Wildlife Service,” he said.
The new wolf hunting season that’s been approved in Montana was a factor in the decision to file the notice of intent to sue, he said. Currently, traps set for other furbearers, mostly bobcat, sometimes catch lynx, he said.
“There’s going to be a lot more big traps out there that are going to kill a lot of lynx,” Garrity said.
The notice of intent says the state’s regulations do not include restrictions on where trapping or snaring can occur and that trapping is authorized in occupied lynx habitat throughout the state.
The state does not allow trapping of lynx, but at least nine Montana lynx have been captured in traps set for other species since they were listed in March 2000, the groups say in the notice of intent to sue. Five were captured and released and four were killed.
“That truly is incidental,” said Dave Risley, administrator of FWP’s Fish and Wildlife Division. “I wouldn’t be surprised, if we looked at the data, we’ve probably lost as many to driving and we’re not going to stop driving.
“When you look at critters like that, there’s an acceptable level of loss that won’t have a biological impact,” he said.
Risley said environmental factors, usually habitat loss, is the cause of population declines of animal species 95 percent of the time.
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 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. As a federally threatened species, taking a lynx by trapping or shooting is prohibited.
In Montana, Risley said a specific population estimate wasn’t available but winter snow track surveys show numbers are healthy and the state is believed to support the healthiest population in the Lower 48.
Although the distribution and population is healthy in Montana, lynx are scarce in other states and “Montana suffers from lack of habitat in others states,” Risley said.
“Like a lot of our advertisements say, we’re the last best place on earth,” he said.
The notice of intent to sue was sent to all of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks commission, Joe Maurier, director of the agency, and Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
It cites violations of the Endangered Species Act and puts state officials on notice of their liability.
Wendy Keefover, carnivore protection program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a news release that the state has failed to safeguard lynx from “cruel vicissitudes of traps and snares,” which has resulted in deaths or injury that impair recovery.
Canada lynx captured in body-gripping traps endure physiological and psychological trauma, dehydration, and exposure as well as injuries to bone and tissue that reduces their fitness and chances for persistence, the groups add.
Garrity said the Endangered Species Act requires a 60-day notice of intent before litigation is filed.