WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revised critical habitat for the Canada lynx and removed state boundary limitations on the cat’s U.S. distinct population segment (DPS) in a rule published Friday. The change means the lynx, one of only seven wildcat species in the U.S., is now protected “where found” within the contiguous United States, the agency said.
The lynx was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 2000, and the U.S. DPS designated at that time for the cat spread across 14 states. In 2007, environmental groups petitioned the USFWS to include New Mexico in the DPS definition because the cat was known to frequently cross state lines, but the agency declined to do so based on higher listing priorities.
Critical habitat was designated for the lynx in 2006, then expanded in 2009. Critical habitat is defined as “geographic areas containing features essential to the conservation of a listed species,” according to the agency’s press release. “The Endangered Species Act gives the threatened Canada lynx a real shot at recovery in its high-elevation habitat in the northern United States,” Noreen Walsh, Regional Director for the USFWS Mountain Prairie Region, was quoted as saying in the release.
The 2009 expansion of critical habitat resulted in a lawsuit filed by snowmobile organizations in Montana and Wyoming, and the U.S. District Courts in those states handed the regulation back to the agency for revision in a multidistrict litigation agreement.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and other environmental groups represented by Earthjustice intervened in the suit, and the Sierra Club and Alliance for the Wild Rockies launched a separate challenge, according to the CBD press release.
As a result of the opposing lawsuits, the USFWS changed the critical habitat designation by reducing some areas previously included. At the same time, the DPS definition was revised to remove the state-boundary-based definition, so the cats are now protected across the lower 48 states.
The critical habitat covers nearly 39,000 square miles and encompasses areas in Maine, Minnesota, Idaho, Washington and the Greater Yellowstone area in Montana and Wyoming.
Historically, the lynx was trapped for its beautiful fur and its population declined. Currently, the cats face threats from inadequate regulations, development and climate change. The main prey for these cats is the snowshoe hare, and as a result, lynx and snowmobilers often cross paths.
“The rare wildcat’s population has been reduced by trapping and habitat loss, and critical habitat designation is essential to its survival and recovery. The designation requires that federal agencies ensure their actions will not adversely modify or destroy the lynx’s critical habitat, including by building and maintaining trails for snowmobilers,” the CBD said in their response to the agency’s action.
The final rule is effective Oct. 14.
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