PORTLAND, Maine — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is applying a new threat assessment for federally protected Canada lynx from Maine to Washington State, delaying completion of the first five-year review.
The structured threat assessment will involve several other agencies, at least 15 states and more than 20 Native American tribes. The resulting assessment will serve as the basis of a streamlined five-year review, and a recovery plan if one is necessary, said Jim Zelenak of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Montana.
The delayed five-year review is the first since Canada lynx were declared threatened in 2000. Designations of critical habitat have been made in parts of Maine, Wyoming, Washington, Montana, Idaho and Minnesota.
Under the new timeline, the federal agency hopes to complete the assessment this fall, instead of this summer, and to complete a draft five-year plan in December, Zelenak said.
Based on the review, there will be a recovery plan to help lynx populations unless the process reveals the cat no longer warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act, he said.
In Maine, the lynx population's fate is tied to the snowshoe hares upon which they feed, and the populations of both are believed to be declining because of lack of suitable habitat for the hares. The end of clear-cutting forestry practices in Maine has allowed forests to fill in, taking away the habitat preferred by hares.
The latest estimates from federal scientists put the number of Canada lynx in Maine at about 500; that's fewer than a state estimate of 750 to 1,000 lynx about five years ago.
Historically, there have been smaller numbers of lynx in New Hampshire, where they're thought to have spread from Maine. There also have been lynx sightings in Vermont.
Several wildlife groups want the federal government to do more to protect lynx.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is facing a lawsuit over its so-called incidental take program, which allows for the deaths of up to three lynx and the catch-and-release of 195 lynx in traps over 15 years in Maine, said Mark McCollough, an endangered species specialist with the National Fish and Wildlife Service based in Maine.
Friends of Animals, which sued in federal court, contends the Fish and Wildlife Service violated federal law by failing to minimize the possibility of lynx being trapped.
The state of Maine, the Maine Trappers' Association and the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance Foundation have intervened. Lawyers for the federal agency asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed.