By Kevin Miller
Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - Bangor Daily News
Wildlife activists say recent reports of bald eagles and Canada lynx being caught in hunters’ traps provide additional ammunition to a lawsuit that aims to ban trapping in parts of Maine inhabited by the federally protected species.
Officials with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife confirmed Monday that two bald eagles and four Canada lynx have been caught inadvertently in traps in recent months.
All four of the lynx were re-released into the wild. One of the bald eagles, found snagged by a talon in a trap in Leeds last week, was released over the weekend after several days at a wildlife rehabilitation center.
The second eagle, which was discovered Nov. 30 in a trap near Millinocket, had to be euthanized Friday because its leg never healed, said DIF&W spokesman Mark Latti.
News of the trappings comes as DIF&W is preparing a formal response to a lawsuit on the very topic of eagles and lynx being trapped accidentally. Both species are protected from harm under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The Animal Protection Institute is seeking a court order to end any trapping that could inadvertently capture, injure or kill eagles, lynx or gray wolves. The group has documented nearly two dozen inadvertent trappings of lynx and eagles since 2001, not including the six recent reports.
The California-based group, which has several hundred members in Maine, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Bangor back in October. The judge is waiting for DIF&W’s formal response, due next week, Latti said.
A representative of the Animal Protection Institute’s legal team could not be reached for comment Monday. But Daryl DeJoy, executive director of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, said he believes the reports give the lawsuit even more legitimacy.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg. These are the reported ones," DeJoy said, echoing earlier comments made by leaders of API.
The Wildlife Alliance of Maine, whose members say they are committed to "fair chase" of game and respect for wildlife, is not a party to the lawsuit. DeJoy, however, has supplied information to API on trapping.
Latti said at least two lynx also have been killed by cars. Added together, the incidents suggest to Latti that lynx are doing very well in the state.
"We have a thriving population of lynx in Maine," he said.
Lynx management has long been a hot-button issue in Maine. For years, biologists questioned whether the cats, which grow up to 25 pounds, were even living and reproducing in the state.
Now, hunting and trapping groups claim the snow-loving cats are thriving in Maine’s commercial forests thanks to silviculture techniques that create prime habitat for both the lynx and its primary prey, the snowshoe hare.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently cited those conditions as well as its ongoing relationships with timber companies as a reason for not designating more than 10,000 square miles of Maine forests as critical habitat for lynx. The decision has angered environmental groups.
Mark McCollough, an endangered-species biologist with the USFWS office in Old Town, said the federal agency is working with state officials to develop an "incidental take permit" that would protect the state if eagles or lynx are inadvertently injured or killed in traps.
Maine has roughly 2,500 registered trappers laying thousands of traps throughout the state for a variety of fur-bearing animals, such as beaver, fox, fisher, marten, raccoon, otter, skunk and weasel.
The traps that snagged the two eagles recently were both set legally, but McCollough said he hopes to review with DIF&W officials the state’s policy on allowing exposed carcasses or other meat as bait, which can be tempting to eagles. The smell of hidden meat still could attract desired prey while not being visible from the air.
McCollough said he also was encouraged by the number of trappers who followed the law and reported catching lynx, although he suspects there are some that are never reported.
A representative from the Maine Trappers Association could not be reached for comment Monday.