Sunday, December 06, 2009

Maine: Lynx trapping decision is being appealed

Groups trying to protect lynx appeal federal court's trapping decision

By Kevin Miller
BDN Staff

Two animal rights groups pushing for stronger protections for Canada lynx populations in Maine are appealing a recent federal court decision upholding the state's current trapping regulations.

The Wildlife Alliance of Maine and the Animal Welfare Institute have been battling since August 2008 to force the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to halt most trapping throughout lynx habitat.

At least 47 lynx, which are designated as threatened under the federal endangered species list, have been caught in traps in Maine since 1999, including several so far this season. The vast majority of the cats were released alive.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock sided with the state, ruling that the two groups had failed to prove that DIF&W's current trapping regulations posed a threat to the overall lynx population in Maine.

The organizations filed an appeal Thursday with the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We feel there needs to be more protections for the lynx," Daryl DeJoy, of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, said Saturday. "All of the recent science shows a decline in lynx populations in the state."

While Woodcock did not agree that the threats posed to individual lynx by inadvertent trapping justified shutting down much of Maine's trapping season, he reiterated that Maine remains legally liable under the Endangered Species Act for lynx that are caught.

The state has applied for an "incidental take permit" from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would shield the state for lynx accidentally caught or killed in legally set traps. DIF&W also changed trapping regulations in recent years to help avoid the capture of lynx, however the cats continued to turn up in traps.

Lynx are medium-sized wildcats with large, well-padded paws suited for chasing their primary prey, the snowshoe hare, through deep snow. DIF&W officials estimate that there are perhaps 1,000 or more lynx in Maine, which is home to the only self-sustaining population of the cats in the eastern U.S.

Environmental and animal rights groups, including WAM and the Animal Welfare Institute, question those figures. Some observers fear that lynx populations in Maine may be falling due, in part, to a decline in clear cutting that provides lynx and hare with prime habitat.

A report released earlier this week suggests that global warming also could constitute a major threat to lynx populations in the U.S.

The Endangered Species Coalition listed the lynx as one of 10 species that would likely be harmed as the climate warms. Other species that made the "America's Hottest Species" list include the grizzly bear, the Pacific salmon and the bull trout.

"As temperatures rise with global warming, the snowpack and forests that lynx rely on are predicted to move upward in altitude and northward in latitude," the report reads. "As their habitat shifts upward in elevation, current lynx populations will likely become more isolated. Thus, protecting habitat at higher elevations as well as important corridors linking those areas is just as critical as protecting current Canada lynx habitat in order to ensure the long-term survival of the species."


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