The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the status of the Canada lynx to determine whether there are adequate protections for the “threatened” wildcat whose only East Coast foothold is in northern Maine.
At the end of the review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether to maintain the lynx’s current status as a “threatened” species, to bump it up to “endangered” or to remove the cats from the endangered species list.
The finding will then inform the agency’s next step as it creates a recovery plan for lynx.
The review is taking place at a time when Maine’s management of lynx is coming under closer federal scrutiny following two lynx deaths late last year in traps set for other species, although the nationwide federal review and the Maine lynx deaths are not directly related.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife shut down trapping for most above-ground species throughout northern Maine in early December in response to the incidents.
Laury Zicari, supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Maine Field Office in Orono, said the federal review will examine, among other factors, the latest lynx population trends throughout its range as well as whether there is adequate habitat protection. The cats are also found in the Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes regions.
“It will not be based on the population size alone,” Zicari said of the final recommendation.
Maine wildlife officials have said that the state’s lynx population – estimated at between 750 and 1,000 adults – is growing and helps explain the record 20-plus lynx inadvertently caught in traps during last year’s season.
All but the two dead lynx were re-released with minimal or no injuries, according to DIFW.
Department officials said they look forward to sharing their latest data with federal biologists.
“We certainly feel there is a healthy population of lynx in the state of Maine,” said Jim Connolly, director of resource management at Maine DIFW. “But we recognize that the listing process is a national process.”
habitat privately owned
Habitat is a key consideration in Maine because the vast majority of the state’s forests are privately owned and managed for timberland. That makes managing for lynx habitat more challenging in Maine than out West, where many of the forests inhabited by lynx are federally owned.
Weighing up to 30 pounds, lynx are similar in size and appearance to the much more common bobcats but have large, padded feet that allow them to pursue their favorite prey, the snowshoe hare, in deep snow. Lynx populations are often tied to hare abundance, with its cyclical population spikes and collapses.
Snowshoe hares thrive in younger, more open forests often found after large harvests – such as the clearcuts that were common following Maine’s last spruce budworm outbreak in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, many Maine forest managers use “pre-commercial thinning” to improve the growth of trees that will eventually be harvested, a practice that Zicari said does not create ideal snowshoe habitat.
But with another cyclical outbreak of the spruce budworm potentially looming, there is talk in Augusta and within Maine’s forestry industry about the need to change harvesting practices to minimize the impact in an outbreak. Those management practices could, in turn, affect hare and lynx populations.
Trappers and animal welfare groups will be closely watching the federal status review of the lynx.
As a threatened species, lynx are protected from harassment or harm under federal law. But in November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued Maine a permit – known as an “incidental take permit” – that allows trapping for other species to continue in areas of the state inhabited by the wildcats.
That permit requires Maine to modify its regulations if two lynx are killed in legally set traps over the 15-year permit period. Additionally, the permit specifies that up to 192 lynx can be inadvertently caught but not killed during that time.
Deaths force RULE revisions
Roughly one month after receiving the permit, however, the state was forced to significantly restrict trapping throughout northern Maine because two lynx were found dead in legally set traps. DIFW is working with federal wildlife officials and trappers to revise trapping regulations before the next season begins this fall.
Brian Cogill, president of the Maine Trappers Association, said the federal review was “long overdue.” Cogill said sportsmen in northern Maine tell him “they see lynx tracks everywhere.” While he hopes the cats will eventually be de-listed, he said he wants to hear the agency’s findings.
“At this point, we think the more information the better,” added James Cote, a lobbyist who represents the Maine Trappers Association on policy issues. “We are obviously trying to protect as many trapping opportunities as we can. And to do that, you have to make sure the best available science is what (the agencies) are looking at.”
Daryl DeJoy, an outspoken critic of Maine’s trapping regulations who serves as executive director with the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, said he believes DIFW wants the lynx de-listed.
“I believe that, at the very least, they should keep the status quo or even up-list it” to endangered, DeJoy said. “I can’t imagine that the feds will de-list the lynx. There just aren’t enough of them.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking comments from the scientific community and the public on the Canada lynx as part of the review. Comments should be sent by Feb. 1 to: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Ecological Services Field Office, Attn: Jim Zelenak, 585 Shepard Way, Suite 1, Helena, MT 59601.
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at: