HELENA - Three conservation groups filed a federal court lawsuit Thursday against Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners and Director Jeff Hagener for allowing trapping and snaring in Canada lynx habitat.
The Friends of the Wild Swan, the WildEarth Guardians and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies say FWP reported at least nine incidents since 2000 of lynx being caught in traps set for other species; and say four of those animals died. They alleged that this violates the federal Endangered Species Act, which lists lynx as a threatened species and warranted for protection, and want the trapping prohibited in lynx habitat.
“In one instance, a young female lynx was found in a pool of her own blood, with extensive muscle damage, and an empty stomach — all from lingering far too long in a cruel, steel-jawed trap,” Wendy Keefover, carnivore protection program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a news release. “Montana allowed this unnecessary death, which impedes lynx recovery, especially when it involves potential breeding animals.”
The lawsuit outlines some of the cases in which lynx were caught and died, including one that starved to death. They note in the lawsuit that in 2006, lynx researchers for federal government documented 49 moralities of radio-collared lynx in Montana. Causes of mortality included incidental trapping or shooting, predation, starvation and other unknown causes.
Officials with FWP hadn’t seen the lawsuit and declined to comment on it. Along with Hagener, the defendants in the suit are commissioners Dan Vermillion, Bob Ream, Matthew Tourtlotte, Lawrence Wetsit and Richard Stuker.
Lynx trapping is banned in Montana because the animal is protected under the ESA. However, Montana allows regulated trapping of other species.
An estimated 300 lynx inhabit Montana, according to the plaintiffs. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which listed the lynx as threatened, notes that there are no reliable population estimates for any region. Lynx habitat can be found in 14 states; in Montana, they’re thought to be present on portions of the Helena, Flathead, Kootenai, Bitterroot, Gallatin, Beaverhead Deerlodge, Lewis and Clark and Custer national forests.
The Canada lynx is a medium-sized cat with long legs, large, well-furred paws and webbed toes, long tufts on the ears, and a short, black-tipped tail. Adult males weigh an average of 22 pounds and they’re about 33 inches long from head to tail. Adult female lynx are slightly smaller.
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Some of its the population decline is due to both direct and indirect threats, including high traffic volumes on roads that bisect lynx habitat, logging in forests, human encroachment via subdivisions, climate change and mortalities from poaching and trapping.
The conservation groups allege that trapping and snaring in occupied lynx habitat is illegal because the Endangered Species Act mandates that states prevent the “take” of threatened animals.
Canada lynx that are captured in traps endure physiological and psychological trauma, dehydration, and exposure as well as injuries to bone and tissue that reduces their fitness and chances for persistence, according to the lawsuit. They claim that trapping also causes indirect mortality to lynx kits since adults harmed or killed by traps and snares cannot adequately feed and nurture their young.
“Crippled or dead lynx can’t take care of their young,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “If we want to get lynx off the Endangered Species list, we need species’ recovery, not more mortalities and mutilations.”
Arlene Montgomery, program director for Friends of the Wild Swan, added that lynx are easily captured as they are naïve about human scents, respond well to baits, and are easily attracted to visual lures.
“Baited traps lure lynx to injury and death,” she said. “Montana has a responsibility to ensure that imperiled species are not harmed by trapping. Our goal is to make sure that the state does just that.”
The groups are represented by attorneys Matt Bishop and Greg Costello of Western Environmental Law Center, and Melissa Hailey of W. Randolph Barnhart, P.C.