Round Four: Conservationists Sue for Protection of Canada Lynx

(03/13/2000) - Washington, D.C. -- Defenders of Wildlife, 11 other environmental groups and one individual today filed suit against the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking protection of the Canada lynx under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This suit is the fourth by conservationists in a nearly ten-year legal battle to win such a listing.

"The goal of getting the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the lynx seems more elusive than the small cat itself," said Defenders president Rodger Schlickeisen. "The Clinton administration’s track record in repeatedly delaying federal protection for the lynx is one of the more flagrant abuses of the Endangered Species Act that we’ve seen."

In 1997, Federal Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the FWS had unlawfully refused to propose listing the lynx under the ESA. The ruling stated that FWS had “relied on glaringly faulty factual premises, and ignored the views of its own experts" that the lynx should be listed. In 1998, Judge Kessler approved a settlement that called for FWS to propose listing the lynx under the ESA on or before June 30, 1998. FWS missed that deadline. A month later, FWS proposed listing the lynx as threatened in the lower 48 states. A final listing decision was due by July 1999, but once again the deadline was missed. FWS extended the date by six months until January 8, 2000, but failed to meet that deadline. The final rule reportedly is being held up by the Office of Management and Budget, an agency with no legal authority to delay ESA listing determinations. Conservationists today filed suit against FWS over its failure to meet the ESA’s statutory deadline for publishing a final lynx listing rule.

"The Clinton administration’s complete disregard for the law and the conservation of the lynx is simply unconscionable," said Jasper Carlton, executive director of the Colorado-based Biodiversity Legal Foundation, one of the 11 groups. "It appears that this time the Office of Management and Budget has illegally played a role in delaying a final listing decision."

The Canada lynx, the only lynx species in North America, is a medium- sized wild cat that lives in far northern forests. The lynx has large feet that function like snowshoes, allowing it to hunt in deep snow. The species feeds primarily on snowshoe hares, other small mammals and birds. Historically the lynx roamed throughout the Northwest, the northern Great Plains and the Northeast. The U.S. population has declined to a few hundred scattered individuals mostly in Maine, Montana and Washington. One of the biggest threats to the lynx is continued logging and roadbuilding in northern forests. A predator high in the food chain, the lynx is an important species in boreal forests and needs undisturbed habitat to survive.

Defenders and other environmental groups predict that habitat destruction, trapping, hunting and loss of prey will soon drive the lynx to extinction. FWS biologists, through extensive research on the lynx and its habitat, have concluded that the U.S. lynx population is on the brink of extinction. Current populations are being splintered into smaller, isolated populations that cannot connect with each other owing clearcutting and roadbuilding.

The plaintiffs in the suit include Defenders of Wildlife, Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, Fund for Animals, Humane Society of the United States, Kettle Range Conservation Group, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Predator Conservation Alliance, Restore: The North Woods, Superior Wilderness Action Network, American Lands Alliance, Conservation Action Project and Mark Skatrud. The plaintiffs are represented by Eric Glitzenstein of the Washington, D.C. law firm of Meyer and Glitzenstein.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270