Conservationists Protect the Lynx in Court

(03/27/1997) - Washington, D.C. -- Thirteen environmental plaintiffs and two individuals -- headed by Defenders of Wildlife, Biodiversity Legal Foundation and Northwest Ecosystem Alliance -- today learned that a federal district court judge has ruled against the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for failing to adequately consider all evidence indicating that the lynx should be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). (Defenders v. Babbitt).

In the 38-page opinion by Judge Gladys Kessler, the failure to list the lynx was found inconsistent with scientific findings made by the FWS' own field biologists. The lynx, a brownish-gray cat usually weighing less than thirty pounds and distinguished by its long black ear tufts, once ranged throughout many areas of the northwestern and northeastern states, but its numbers have dwindled to only several hundred scattered individuals, mostly in Maine, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.

Defenders' president Rodger Schlickeisen said today, "This is a huge victory for the lynx, its ecosystem, and the integrity of the ESA. Sound science has prevailed over short-term economic greed."

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. The lawless logging rider and the endangered species listing moratorium passed by the 104th Congress, which have now expired, compounded the ecological problems facing the lynx, according to Defenders.

Defenders' legal director William Snape noted, "Despite the kinder rhetoric from the 105th Congress, the fact remains that the lynx would not survive if present efforts to reauthorize the ESA were now law. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne's (R-ID) draft bill, for instance, would allow states to essentially skip federal recovery requirements and permit agencies like the Forest Service to unilaterally ignore advice from FWS biologists when determining timber harvest levels."

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 that cannot connect with each other due to continued clearcutting and road building through forest lands. Despite the recommendation of its own field offices that the lynx be listed, the FWS Washington, D.C. office decided not to list the species in December 1994. The court noted many legal and factual inconsistencies made by the D.C. office in ruling against the federal government. The FWS now has 60 days to reevaluate its decision not to list the lynx based upon an administrative record demonstrating the many threats to the species.

The Endangered Species Act is this country's leading statute to protect endangered plant and animal species, as well as their habitats. The Act is up for renewal this year, and some Members of Congress clearly wish to greatly weaken or even repeal it. Defenders has offered numerous recommendations to make the ESA more effective. One proposal focuses on protecting keystone species, such as the lynx, because their health is an indicator of the health of broader ecosystems. Another proposal would end harmful ecological practices on federal land that cost the federal treasury billions of dollars each year.

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 the protection 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. In addition to the Biodiversity Legal Foundation and the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, co-plaintiffs include the Fund for Animals, Humane Society of the United States, Kettle Range conservation Group, Minnesota Ecosystem Recovery Project Inc., Oregon Natural Resources Council Act, Predator Project, Restore: the North Woods, Superior Wilderness Action Network, Voice of the Environment, Western Ancient Forest Campaign, Mark Skatrud, and Evan Frost.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270