MISSOULA, Mont. (CN) – Despite eight years of prodding, the federal government refuses to protect the threatened Canada lynx, environmental groups claim in two federal lawsuits.
America’s wild snow cat was listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2000. The essence of the fight lies in the millions of acres of boreal and subalpine forests in Canada and the United States.
Environmentalists claim Fish and Wildlife has failed, after several tries, to designate enough acreage in the northern states as critical lynx habitat.
Environmental groups sued in 2010, and filed two more lawsuits Monday after Fish and Wildlife’s latest habitat designation.
WildEarth Guardians, Conservation Northwest, Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands sued Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe, under the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.
The groups claim that Fish and Wildlife’s 2014 revised designation excludes important areas critical to the lynx. The designation includes areas in the Northern Rockies and North Cascades in Montana, Wyoming and Washington, but excludes habitat in the southern Rocky Mountain range, where Fish and Wildlife claims reintroduction of the lynx is not necessary. It excludes other areas in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon where the lynx has traditionally thrived.
The environmentalists say the exclusions were made “without any analysis.”
“The best available science reveals many of these areas were occupied by lynx at the time of listing, remain currently occupied by lynx and contain the habitat elements essential to the species’ conservation in the contiguous United States,” according to the WildEarth complaint.
The Canada lynx is a medium-sized wildcat with long legs and large paws with webbed toes for walking on snow. The long tufts of fur on its ears are the cat’s signature identifiers, along with a stubby, black-tipped tail. It weighs, on average, about 20 pounds and stands about 20 inches in height.
Snowshoe hares are the animal’s main diet, but red squirrels are a secondary option during summer or when snowshoe hare numbers are low.
They live in spruce-fir forests and have a typical range of about 40 miles, but have been known to roam even farther, making habitat a critical factor in the lynx’s survival.
The Fish and Wildlife Service, under the Endangered Species Act, is responsible for designating the lynx’s habitat. The agency officially designated habitat in 2006.
Upon review, the designation was found to have been improperly influenced by then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald, according to the WildEarth complaint.
A second designation was issued in 2009, but was found by the court, in Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. Lyder, to be “flawed” in several areas. The court ordered the revised habitat rule be kept in place while Fish and Wildlife completed a new analysis and determination.
On Sept. 14 this year, Fish and Wildlife again issued habitat designation for the lynx, but designated even less acreage than the 2009 revised rule, according to the second lawsuit filed Monday.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Native Ecosystems Council, Rocky Mountain Wild and the Sierra Club sued Secretary Jewell and her Deputy Assistant Secretary Michael Bean, who signed the critical habitat designation.
“The FWS’s failure to base its decision on the best available science means that the agency overlooked a serious aspect of the problem and rendered a decision that was contrary to the evidence before the agency,” the complaint states.
The plaintiffs want the court to declare the agency’s designation “arbitrary and capricious” and an “abuse of discretion,” and that it represents “agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed.” They want the issue remand to Fish and Wildlife for further analysis.
Lead counsel for the WildEarth plaintiffs is Matthew Bishop with the Western Environmental Law Center, in Helena, Mont.
Lead counsel for the Alliance plaintiffs is Timothy Bechtold in Missoula.
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