Conservationists File Suit Against FWS For Failure To Protect Lynx

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(09/15/1997) - Washington, D.C. - Twelve environmental groups and two individuals today filed suit against the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) for failing to protect the lynx under the Endangered Species Act. Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen believes, "The task of getting the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the lynx seems more elusive than the small cat itself." The suit is based on the decision last May by the FWS to hold off on listing the lynx despite the agency's own admission that the cat is on the brink of extinction resulting from extensive over-logging and road building.

Led by Defenders of Wildlife, The Biodiversity Legal Foundation and the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, the groups today filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Under court order to make a ruling on the lynx's status, FWS announced in late May that listing the species falls under the category of "warranted, but precluded." That category is intended to be a means by which the FWS can postpone action on species deserving of protected status yet not in imminent danger of extinction, in order to focus first on other critically imperilled species.

ESA legislation by Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R-ID), expected to be introduced tomorrow, would further weaken existing protections for the lynx by failing to address activities that undermine recovery of the species such as timber harvests on National Forest Lands. Conservationists support legislation previously introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) that would make recovery of endangered species like the lynx the prime goal of the ESA.

Schlickeisen says, "To use the 'warranted but precluded' status for a species in such critical danger of extirpation from the United States as the lynx is a tragic move away from the use of sound science in listing decisions and in implementation of the ESA. That the Fish and Wildlife Service would use this status as an escape hatch to avoid controversy is disheartening, at best. That the agency would choose politics over science in their decision process is truly frightening."

On March 27, 1997, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the FWS' failure to list the species after two decades of knowing that it was biologically imperilled was illegal, and that the decision to not list the species under the ESA relied on "glaringly faulty factual premises, and ignored the views of its own experts." (Defenders v. Babbitt). Yet, in response to Judge Kessler's order to make a new decision on the status of the lynx, FWS issued the "warranted but precluded" announcement.

According to Defenders' legal counsel John Fritschie, "The Fish and Wildlife Service's assertion that the mere act of publishing a proposed rule to list the lynx for the public to comment on is precluded by the need to gather new information is highly disconcerting. Most especially, this is troublesome in light of the fact that the government's attorney admitted to Judge Kessler that the Service had already done all the work necessary to compile information on this species."

The lynx, a brownish-grey wild member of the cat family, usually weighing less than thirty pounds and distinguished by its long black ear tufts, once ranged throughout many areas of the northwestern United States, Northern Great Plains, and northeastern United States. However, its numbers have dwindled to only several hundred scattered individuals, mostly in Maine, Montana, and Washington. One of the biggest threats to the lynx comes from continued logging and road building in northern forests. Many of these forests are roadless and administered by the U.S. Forest Service. The lynx, a predator high in the food chain, is an important species in boreal forests and needs undisturbed forest habitat in order to survive.

Defenders and other environmentalists have argued for several years that habitat destruction, trapping, hunting and loss of prey base could soon drive the lynx into extinction. In addition, Defenders has long suspected that the desire to cut national forest land in eastern Washington, western Montana and Idaho has been driving the political decision to leave the lynx unprotected.

Schlickeisen believes, "It is high time for the Service to put aside politics and recognize that this creature is in desperate need of protection. With a constant barrage of attacks like the new Kempthorne bill, this species requires all of the sound, science-based preservation measures we can possibly muster."

Despite the present tenuous political climate for wildlife, FWS biologists have spent years extensively researching the lynx and its habitat. Their research indicates that the U.S. lynx population is on the brink of extinction and is being splintered into smaller, isolated populations which cannot connect with each other due to continued clear cutting and road building through forest lands.

Several states have recognized that the lynx needs protection, including Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Colorado, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon. However, none of these states provide protection equal to that of the federal ESA.

Defenders and the co-plaintiffs are represented on this issue by Eric Glitzenstein of the law firm of Meyer and Glitzenstein in Washington, D.C. and by John Fritschie of Defenders of Wildlife. In addition to the Biodiversity Legal Foundation and the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, co-plaintiffs include the Fund for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, the Kettle Range Conservation Group, the Minnesota Ecosystem Recovery Project Inc., the Oregon Natural Resources Council Act, the Predator Project, Restore: the North Woods, the Superior Wilderness Action Network, the Colorado Environmental Coalition, and the Western Ancient Forest Campaign.

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270

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