Protecting Critical Habitat for Lynx
Canada lynx were officially protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2000, in response to Defenders’ petition and litigation. Federal protections are much more effective once critical habitat is designated for the species.
Critical habitat designations ensure that activities requiring a federal permit, license or funding do not destroy or adversely modify areas critical to the recovery of the species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is in charge of designating this critical habitat.
In 2006, Bush administration officials ignored the best available science and FWS issued a critical habitat designation for lynx that included just two national parks in the western United States. The move catered to the timber industry, which didn’t want any additional restrictions on logging in our national forests. Defenders and our conservation allies threatened to take legal action and urged FWS to revisit its flawed critical habitat designation. In 2009, the Service expanded the critical habitat designation to protect 20 times as much land as the initial Bush administration proposal, including parts of our national forests and some important private lands. Then, in 2010, Defenders and our colleagues joined the Service in defending the designation from attack by snowmobile groups in Washington and Wyoming.
Where We Are Today
In 2013, FWS released a proposal to revise lynx critical habitat, and Defenders’ team is currently working on analyzing and submitting our comments on that proposal to ensure that these changes help put lynx on the road to long-term recovery throughout its range. Meanwhile, Defenders is keeping an eye on the lynx’s remaining strongholds to ensure that the needs of lynx are considered in all forest practices conducted in these key areas.
While lynx are now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the FWS has yet to develop and implement a recovery plan. A recovery plan is necessary to provide a roadmap to federal agencies and others for recovering the species – this is a very important step that we are continually pushing FWS to take.
Additionally, there is a great amount that remains unknown about lynx population status, responses to threats, and habitat needs, which can only be understood through careful field research and monitoring. The listing of the lynx as Threatened has boosted lynx research, but it still remains a tiny fraction of the research spent on wolves and bears, let alone hunted species like elk and deer. Simply keeping track of where lynx still survive and their status in those areas over time, is one of the most important needs facing lynx today. Defenders is always on the lookout for ways to help fund such research and monitoring.