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In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again

Photo: Canadian lynx. US Fish & Wildlife Service digital library.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently released a review of the status of lynx, which were listed as “Threatened” on the Endangered Species list in 2000.  Now, in the new world of Trump’s fact-free, anti-science, war-on-wildlife administration, the FWS recommends removing lynx from Endangered Species Act protections completely, writing: “Considering the available information, we found no reliable information that the current distribution and abundance of resident lynx in the contiguous United States are substantially reduced from historical conditions.”

The agency does not even attempt to provide the public with an estimated current population number of how many lynx there are because the agency has no idea.  The key phrase here is “considering the available information,” and the shocking truth is that the Fish and Wildlife Service has no idea how many lynx there are for one simple reason; the agency no longer monitors lynx populations!

What the agency, if it was being truthful, should have written in their report is: “Because we no longer monitor the population of lynx we have no evidence of how many lynx there are and therefore also have no evidence that lynx numbers are declining or increasing or doing anything at all.  Also, because we have decided to ignore all of the historical records of lynx presence, we have no evidence of any change from historic conditions.”

Montana has more lynx than any other state in the Lower 48. Yet, given that lynx can no longer be found in much of their historical Western Montana habitats, and given that the number of lynx in Montana is known to be decreasing in areas such as the Seeley Lake area according to researchers who actually look for lynx, a fact-based, rational agency action would apply the conservation biology “precautionary principle” and increase protections for lynx, not remove them completely.

In the world of real science, the last estimate of the number of lynx in Montana by Dr. John Squires, a Forest Service lynx scientist, was that there were about 300 lynx in Montana with the populations declining in most parts of the state. For example, until 2010 there was still a resident population of lynx in the Garnet Mountains northeast of Missoula.  They had most likely been living there since the last Ice Age, but after the latest Forest Service logging projects, not a single lynx could be found there.  Not one.

17 years ago lynx trapping was outlawed due to the Endangered Species listing, but lynx numbers continued to decline because past and current logging has destroyed the dense mature and old growth forests upon which they rely for reproduction and survival.  Lynx can also no longer be found in the Gallatin Range and lynx numbers are falling in the Seeley-Swan Valley, which is the largest lynx population in Montana.

What the FWS should have done to determine the “historical conditions of lynx” was ask Montana’s Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks, which estimated there were 700 to 1,050 lynx throughout Western Montana in 1994.  With Montana lynx population estimates falling between 57% and 71% by 2017, the population decline is undeniable.

Additionally, as to habitat, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s own scientist, Megan Kosterman, found that 50% of each lynx home range must be mature, dense forest to provide optimal habitat for lynx to breed and raise kittens and that no more than 15% of each lynx home range should be clearcut. Not a single National Forest is complying with this recommendation, but somehow, in an Orwellian twist, FWS is arguing that Forest Service management plans are adequate for lynx.

The truth is that FWS is only arguing that lynx should be delisted because of a court deadline this week that required that FWS finally, after 17 years of delay, produce a recovery plan for lynx.  Rather than produce the court-ordered recovery plan by the deadline, FWS simply filed a document arguing that lynx no longer need any protections under the Endangered Species Act, and therefore FWS does not need to produce a recovery plan.  Thus, FWS’s “status review” is simply a transparent attempt to evade the law by making a drastic, unsupported conclusion to delist.  We urge you to contact FWS and demand that they revoke their delisting recommendation and produce the recovery plan that the law requires, and that this rare, elusive, imperiled species needs.

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Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

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