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Canada lynx

A female Canada lynx heads for the woods after being released near South Fork, Colorado.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must do more to keep Canada lynx out of bobcat traps, a federal court judge has ruled.

While bobcats may be trapped, lynx have protection as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit by WildEarth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity accused the agency of failing to follow the requirements of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and not doing enough to stop bobcat trappers from taking the wrong animal. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy found the FWS rules were “both overbroad and underinclusive.”

“Additionally, this amorphous condition is assessed by untrained trappers, not an experienced service wildlife biologist whose interpretation would be due deference,” Molloy wrote. “The service’s interpretation and use of the term ‘injury’ in the context of this case is arbitrary and capricious and not based on the best available science.”

That’s a problem because FWS must take extra measures to protect lynx if more than two are killed or injured by trapping in a single year. Molloy found the agency’s dependence on trappers to self-report accidental capture of lynx wasn’t enough to ensure the predatory cat was getting protection.

Lawyers for the Montana Trappers Association and Fur Information Council of America argued that FWS had done a good job of evaluating trapping seasons, methods and historical catch records when it determined its regulations were sufficient to protect lynx. Molloy countered that analysis was published in a brochure that no one was required to read, which failed to meet the “reasonable and prudent” protections requirement in the Endangered Species Act.

Canada lynx are similar in size to bobcats, with mature males of both species weighing about 22 pounds. Bobcats are much more common and have distinctly spotted coats, while lynx are grayer in color and have faint spotting. A 2010 population estimate assumed between 350 and 500 lynx inhabited remote bits of western Montana, while bobcats prowled the entire state and more than 1,400 were trapped in the same year.

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The Fish and Wildlife Service authorized export of nearly 60,000 bobcat pelts from the United States to other countries in 2014, according to records compiled on the CITES Trade Database.

“We are pleased the Service must now take a hard look at imposing conditions that truly protect lynx from trapping, which may include common-sense approaches like trap check intervals and trap size limits,” said Sarah McMillan, conservation director for WildEarth Guardians. “The service’s primary responsibility is to conserve imperiled species like lynx, not facilitate cruel trapping.”

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.