Lynx deemed no longer threatened

Wild cat rarely seen near Big Sky

It’s the rarest of wildlife found—and not found—in the forests around Big Sky, and recently the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its intent to begin the process of removing protections for Canada lynx under the Endangered Species Act. 

The announcement by the USFWS was followed by statements from supporters and detractors of the plan, while in Gallatin Canyon, along the Gallatin Crest and in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness areas, there hasn’t been a lynx sighting in at least five years, according to the Western Environmental Law Center and WildEarth Guardians. 

These groups estimate there are approximately 300 lynx living in Northwest Montana and Southeast Idaho. But they offer no lynx population estimates for the Greater Yellowstone region and give local lynx only a 15 percent chance “of surviving to the year 2100—under our present regulatory framework.”

In an email to the Lookout, John Mellgren with the Western Environmental Law Center, wrote, “There actually aren’t many lynx detections in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.” Mellgren pointed to USFWS research showing what little we know about lynx in the area.

“Several resident lynx and evidence of reproduction were verified in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” according to a report released recently by the USFWS. “In addition, at least nine radio-marked lynx released in Colorado dispersed northward into or through (Greater Yellowstone) in 2003-2010, but no lynx have been detected in the Greater Yellowstone Area since 2010. Most places surveyed in Yellowstone National Park had hare densities clearly too low to support resident lynx.”

Lynx numbers mirror closely with the feline predator’s chief food source, snowshoe hares. The USFWS studied both snowshoe hares and lynx in the lead up to its decision to move ahead with revoking its status as a threatened species. 

The USFWS announced that it spent two years working closely with wildlife experts and researchers, looking at “climate change, forest ecology and other issues” before deciding not to follow through with a recovery plan for the animal. In explaining its rationale, the federal agency stated, “Although climate change remains an important factor for the conservation of the Canada lynx, neither the USFWS nor the experts we consulted conclude that the lynx is at risk of extinction from climate change within the foreseeable future.”

Montana Sen. Steve Daines responded to the lynx announcement with praise for the USFWS, saying, “This report is exciting news and the result of two decades of collaborative work between state and tribal governments, conservation organizations, sportsmen, landowners and countless others who are committed to protecting and recovering the Canada lynx.”

Wildlife advocates in Montana and beyond have criticized Sen. Daines, Sen. Jon Tester and the Trump Administration for their stances on lynx habitat, and that criticism continues.  

“This is a political decision—pure and simple. This administration is throwing science out the window,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who has worked extensively to protect the species over the past decade. “The best science tells us that lynx are worse off than they were when originally listed in 2000—we’re seeing lower numbers, more range contraction and now understand the significant threats posed by climate change. This, however, was all papered-over by the administration just in time to shirk its legal obligation to issue a lynx recovery plan on Jan. 15.”

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