DENVER – The federal government will extend protections to all imperiled Canada lynx in the lower 48 U.S. states, but wildlife advocates said on Thursday it was ignoring important parts of the rare cats’ range and they vowed to challenge the move in court.
Thickly furred lynx roam through high country from Maine to Washington and south through the Rocky Mountains. They are classified as threatened in the lower 48 states under the Endangered Species Act.
Amid calls from conservation groups for greater protections, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a rule to be published later on Friday that it was extending the act’s protections to all lynx “where found” in the contiguous United States. The law broadly bans killing or injuring imperiled animals without a special permit.
“Our final rule provides the lynx, one of only seven wild cat species in the nation, with what it needs to persist and thrive for future generations of Americans,” said Noreen Walsh, the service’s regional director for the Mountain Prairie Region.
Separately, the service is designating some 100,900 sq. km in Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Washington and Wyoming that it said “constitute our current best assessment of the areas that meet the definition of critical habitat” for lynx.
WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups that has sued the federal government over lynx protections in the past, applauded the fact the new rule extended safeguards to all lynx, including a population in New Mexico that had been overlooked.
But it said it was disappointed over the separate issue of critical habitat designation, saying the federal authorities had reduced the overall area by 6,700 sq. km from what was proposed by the Service last year.
A designation of critical habitat gives greater protections to environments that threatened species rely on to survive, and imposes restrictions on activities such as mining, logging and snowmobiling in the high country where lynx are found.
Drew Kerr, an advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said the new designation ignored important parts of the cats’ range extending from southern Wyoming, through Colorado, to northern New Mexico. Sections of Washington state, Oregon, Idaho and Montana were also excluded, he added. He said the group and the Western Environmental Law Center plan to challenge the “inadequate” designation in federal court.
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