by Laura Lundquist, Chronicle Staff Writer
Three conservation groups have sued to stop trapping in Montana lynx habitat.
On Thursday, in a Missoula U.S. District Court, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Wild Swan and WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit against the Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission and FWP director Jeff Hagener for permitting trapping in lynx habitat.
At least nine lynx have been discovered in traps since the species was listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened in 2000. Four died, so the complaint alleges FWP has violated the ESA.
On its website, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks claims Montana has the healthiest lynx population in the lower 48 states, based upon winter tracks surveys, but it has no population numbers.
Over the past decade, the number of tracks logged in annual FWP surveys has dropped into the single digits. In the 1980s and 1990s, the number averaged around 50.
The best available estimates say no more than 300 lynx inhabit Montana. The population is declining from both indirect and direct threats: habitat degradation, human encroachment, climate change, poaching and trapping.
Lynx trapping is banned, but the cat is attracted by bait and visual lures set to catch other species. Montana allows trapping of wolves, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, otters and fishers.
FWP allowed trapping of wolverines until the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Friends of the Wild Swan joined with the Helena Hunters and Anglers to sue in October. The wolverine is now being considered for endangered species protections.
Last week, Friends of the Wild Swan joined two other groups in a lawsuit to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to speed up the development of a recovery plan for lynx.
USFWS guidance says species recovery plans should be written within a few years of listing. But the lynx plan has been delayed 13 years, partly because of disagreements over inclusion of areas throughout the West as lynx habitat.
Such a plan may have had recommendations that would have limited trapping in Montana, said Mike Garrity of Alliance for the Wild Rockies.