The Trump administration announced Thursday that it’s moving to strike the Canada lynx from the endangered-species list, despite a 2016 assessment concluding the species will die out in its northern range by the end of the century without federal protection.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had initially said it was “very unlikely” that resident lynx populations would survive until 2100 “in all of the geographic units that currently support them.” The assessment in the waning weeks of the Obama administration had warned that “resiliency will be substantially diminished because of reduced population sizes and distributions.”
In October, the Trump administration came to a somewhat different conclusion. It expressed confidence the animals would survive through 2050 — though officials said they could not be certain of the lynx’s fate in its sprawling range across Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Colorado, Idaho and Washington.
“Resident lynx populations,” the administration said, “are very likely to persist in [the territories] that currently support them in the near-term,” which the 2017 document identified as seven years away.
“Given the outcome of this analysis,” a statement Thursday said, “the service will not at this time be completing a recovery plan for the Canada lynx.”
While it said the delisting recommendation “does not remove or negate the Endangered Species Act protections currently in place for the Canada lynx,” the decision does trigger a process to end them. The first step would be for Fish and Wildlife Service to publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register, then take public comments and finally draft a final decision.
Canada lynx, cousins of the bobcat, were listed as threatened in 2000 as logging, motorized vehicles and development invaded their habitat at a time when there were no federal regulations protecting them. In addition, the animals were being trapped for their furs. In the 17 years since, federal and state officials have worked to increase populations through land management.
Maine has the largest population of Canada lynx, and it’s “growing and expanding,” Chandler Woodcock, the state’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife commissioner, said in a statement provided Thursday by the Denver office of the Fish and Wildlife Service. “Not only are lynx found in more places, but signs of lynx are found more frequently during our surveys.”
Numerous environmental groups that observe Canada lynx disagree, noting the abrupt change in the two federal assessments in less than a year.
“This is a political decision — pure and simple,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “This administration is throwing science out the window. The best science tells us that lynx are worse off than they were when originally listed in 2000.”
In contrast with the Fish and Wildlife Service report, Bishop said that “we’re seeing lower numbers.” Nongovernment conservationists say climate change looms as a future threat that will fragment the lynx’s habitat and scatter the snowshoe hare they rely on for food.
“The service’s abrupt about-face is an obvious attempt to abandon the good work toward recovering this climate-impacted species because saving lynx from extinction is not aligned with the Trump administration’s climate denial and emphasis on maximizing resource extraction on our public lands,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians.