SUE MAJOR HOLMES, Associated Press Writer
Dec 17, 2009 5:12 pm US/Mountain
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) ― The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday the Canada lynx in New Mexico warrants federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, but the agency will not act immediately because it must finish work on other higher-priority listing.
It said it would add the cat in New Mexico to the candidate species list when priorities allow.
Lynx have been reintroduced in southern Colorado over the past 10 years, and some have wandered into New Mexico. Although the federal government lists the elusive, furry animals as threatened in Colorado and 13 other states, they have no federal protection in New Mexico.
The environmental group WildEarth Guardians said Fish and Wildlife's decision leaves New Mexico's lynx population without protection, putting it at the end of the line of about 330 species already awaiting addition to the endangered or threatened species lists.
That means protection for the lynx in the state could take decades, said Nicole Rosemarino, director of wildlife programs for WildEarth Guardians.
Rosemarino said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar could correct the problem with a paragraph in the Federal Register conferring protection on the lynx in New Mexico.
Fish and Wildlife has said New Mexico was not included in the listed area due to a lack of a historic record of lynx in the state and lack of sufficient habitat and prey.
The federal agency said Thursday it found the animal is moving into New Mexico "at a higher frequency than initially anticipated." However, it also said it does not believe New Mexico's habitat can support a lynx population.
Suitable habitat is limited to northern New Mexico's San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountains, which are contiguous to Colorado mountains where lynx live and have reproduced.
The only role New Mexico may play in conserving the lynx, the agency said, "is to allow individual animals to survive long enough to move back north into more suitable habitat."
A coalition of conservation and animal protection groups sued Fish and Wildlife in 2008 to force it to extend federal protection to the cat in New Mexico. The groups said Colorado Division of Wildlife tracked about 60 lynx into New Mexico's Taos, Rio Arriba and San Juan counties between 1999 and 2006, and that at least 14 of those animals had been killed.
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