The Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project is among five conservation groups that have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Butch Otter and other state officials to halt trapping that harms and sometimes kills Canada lynx, a threatened species numbering perhaps 100 animals in Idaho.
The suit, filed Monday in federal district court in Boise, charges Otter, the director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and members of the state Fish and Game Commission with violations of the Endangered Species Act resulting from state permitting that leads to trapping and killing of lynx.
The animal has been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act since 2000.
The plaintiffs—which also include the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Clearwater, Wild Earth Guardians and the Western Environmental Law Center—stated in a news release that the state has failed to take any action to correct its illegal activities despite repeatedly being alerted to the violations by the organizations.
“With lynx being pushed to the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states, it’s shameful that Idaho officials have just sat idly by for years,” said Amy Atwood of the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity. “Idaho can’t just ignore federal law and go on condoning the trapping of this rare and magnificent cat.”
The plaintiffs state that under the Endangered Species Act, trapping of a lynx is illegal, regardless of whether the cat is killed, injured or released.
They stated in a news release that Canada lynx are now under unprecedented threat from recreational and commercial trapping in Idaho. With increasing fur prices, especially for bobcat, at least three incidents of lynx being unintentionally trapped have been confirmed in just the past two years, they said.
The suit asks that the state be required to obtain an incidental-take permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before allowing trapping in lynx habitat.
The groups stated in their release that the Department of Fish and Game can develop a conservation plan with measures to minimize incidental trapping of lynx. Such a plan would include restrictions on body-crushing and steel-jaw traps and snares, reporting requirements and a daily trap check requirement throughout lynx habitat, they said. They added that similar lawsuits in Minnesota and Maine have led to such restrictions.
Last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed more than 26 million acres of critical habitat across six states for the Canada lynx, which faces ongoing threats from habitat destruction and reduced snowpack from climate change.
“Idaho officials need to understand that a healthy Idaho population of this mountain cat is critical, not just to lynx survival here, but across the Western United States,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “We have to maintain a healthy breeding mix between Rockies and Canadian populations, and Idaho sits at the crossroads.”
Department of Fish and Game spokesman Mike Keckler said the department has not received a copy of the complaint and does not comment on pending litigation.
Lynx are medium-sized, long-legged cats, ranging up to 24 pounds. They are generally nocturnal and well adapted to hunting snowshoe hare at high elevations.
The suit states that lynx live in 27 of Idaho’s 44 counties, including Blaine, Custer and Camas counties. However, Bryon Holt, a supervisory fish and wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said lynx are probably only transient inhabitants in central Idaho.
Holt said there has been no systematic study of lynx numbers in Idaho, and their population probably cycles in response to snowshoe hare numbers and the number of lynx that come south from Canada when snowshoe hare populations crash there.
“We know there are lynx here, but it’s hard to say how many there are at any given time,” he said. “My personal opinion is that 100 might be high.”
Greg Moore: email@example.com
More about wild cats
Lynx are one of the larger cats found in North America. They are characterized by their stubby tails and tufts of hair on their ears. There are three types of lynx worldwide: North American, Asian and European. In North America, lynx favor dense woods and grasslands. They can live up to 20 years in captivity and 15 in the wild.
Carnivores and excellent hunters, lynx mostly hunt birds, fish and small mammals, though they prey upon larger mammals like elk and deer when they can. They are capable of climbing trees and swimming in order to catch their prey. Lynx have incredibly powerful hearing and a strong bite.
Female lynx give birth to a litter a year, more often when food is abundant. Kittens live with their mothers for the first nine months of life.
Lynx live in crevices or under rock ledges in secluded areas. They tend to be solitary creatures, though it’s not unusual for them to travel in small packs.
Lynx and bobcats are two separate species, though they are closely related. The major difference between the two species is that lynx are larger, but lynx can also be spotted by their ubiquitous all-black tail tip. For a story on bobcats, the lynx’s more common cousin, search “Bobcats—Phantoms of the wild” on our homepage, www.mtexpress.com.