Dec. 1, 2020
Today, a coalition of conservation organizations filed a complaint in federal court challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (the Service’s) decision to forgo recovery planning for threatened Canada lynx.
Recovery plans are important tools required by the Endangered Species Act, often referred to as the “roadmap” for conservation because they spell out what the agency needs to do to recover a species and how best to do it. Recovery plans also include metrics that must be met before the Service may deem a species recovered.
In 2013, conservation organizations sued the Service for failing to prepare a recovery plan for threatened lynx, following nearly 14 years of delay. The court agreed and directed the agency to prepare a recovery plan by January 2018.
A month before the January 2018 deadline, however, the Service decided to forgo preparing a recovery plan on the theory that lynx are already “recovered” and no longer threatened in the contiguous U.S. The Service said it would therefore focus its time and energy on delisting and removing protections for the species, rather than recovery planning.
“The decision that lynx are ‘recovered’ is not only invalid and outdated, it is in direct conflict with the best available science, including the agency’s own 2017 species status assessment,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who has worked on lynx conservation issues for more than 20 years.
“Lynx require the protections of the Endangered Species Act because threats from massive logging projects and climate change are degrading and fragmenting their habitat,” said Arlene Montgomery, program director for Friends of the Wild Swan. “They deserve a recovery plan to address those threats and make sure that their populations increase, not decline to extinction.”
“With the demands on our public lands growing every day, we need a roadmap to help ensure the recreation, logging, and development we’re considering doesn’t impair the recovery or viability of wildlife we treasure,” said Peter Hart of Wilderness Workshop. “That is critically important for lynx, which remains one of the most imperiled and iconic species we have. Here, we’re simply asking the agency to prepare that roadmap. The complexities of climate change serve to underscore the need for a recovery plan now.”
“Lynx are surviving today in Colorado and its surrounding states thanks to the Endangered Species Act protections and efforts of the State of Colorado and countless citizens who care about our native wildlife,” said Paige Singer, conservation biologist at Rocky Mountain Wild. “However, lynx will never fully recover here and throughout the rest of their range in the lower 48-states until the Fish and Wildlife Service adequately provides clear recovery goals that serve to coordinate conservation actions among the various state and federal agencies involved in lynx management.”
“These Lynx should be in Oregon. They have been in Oregon. It’s part of their historic range. But they can’t return if the Trump administration keeps rejecting the best science and refusing to create a recovery plan,” said Danielle Moser, Wildlife Program coordinator for Oregon Wild.
“For more than two years, the fate of the Canada lynx has been in limbo because of the political gamesmanship of the Trump administration,” said Lindsay Larris, Wildlife Program director at WildEarth Guardians. “The lynx has not had a recovery plan because, supposedly, the administration concluded it was recovered and should be delisted, yet the delisting rule for the lynx is nowhere to be found and thus cannot be challenged. The Trump administration has devoted fewer resources than any administration in recent history to actually protect and recover species – versus arbitrarily delisting them – and we intend to hold the administration accountable until its final day.”
“Lynx are in more trouble now in the West than ever before,” said Bishop. “Due to climate change, related warming, and longer fire seasons, we’re seeing significant losses of lynx habitat in the few places that still support lynx. We’re also seeing range contraction, increased fragmentation, and decreases in population numbers in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming,” said Bishop. “Lynx were reintroduced into the Southern Rocky Mountains in 1999 – which is helpful and needed. They appear to be doing okay, but the population remains very small and isolated and, as such, extremely vulnerable. Now is to time to focus on recovery planning and designating critical habitat, not declaring victory prematurely and handing over management to the states,” Bishop added.
Lynx and their habitat are threatened by climate change, wildfires, logging, development, motorized access and trapping, which disturb and fragment the landscape. Lynx rely heavily on snowshoe hare, and like their preferred prey, are specially adapted to living in mature boreal forests with dense cover and deep snowpack. Climate change may also increase hare predation from other species, resulting in increased competition and displacement of lynx.
Since designating Canada lynx as threatened under the Endangered Species Act 20 years ago in 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has gone to extraordinary lengths to deny protections to the big cat. The agency had to be sued to list the species, amend the species’ listing status (to cover all of its range in the contiguous United States), prepare a recovery plan, and to designate critical habitat. WELC litigation prompted many of these actions.