The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering removing the Canada lynx from Endangered Species Act protections.
On Thursday, the agency said in a press release that, based on a recent scientific review of the animal’s status, it would begin crafting a proposed rule to delist the species.
The animal ranges across Alaska and Canada, and south into the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes region and New England. The contiguous U.S. population was listed as threatened in 2000, due to what the Fish and Wildlife Service called “a lack of regulatory mechanisms on federal public lands.”
Under threatened status, federal land management agencies have incorporated lynx protection into their actions.
The animals’ numbers tend to cycle up and down, tracking the hare population, but the Fish and Wildlife Service says that a two-year review has concluded that “the Canada lynx may no longer warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and should be considered for delisting due to recovery.”
For the moment, the lynx remains federally protected. The Fish and Wildlife Service will soon publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register, which will then pass through public comment and peer review processes prior to a final decision.
But members of Montana’s Congressional Delegation are already celebrating the news.
Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte stated that “we should celebrate today’s news as a win for both the lynx and Montana and as a promising first step on a road to delisting.”
Senator Steve Daines, R-Mont., remarked that “I look forward to working closely with [Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke] as the delisting of the Canada lynx is considered so that management of the species can be returned to the states and our tribes.”
Both legislators have fiercely criticized some actions taken to protect the lynx. In 2015, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Forest Service had violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to re-enter consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after the latter agency expanded the lynx’s habitat to include 11 national forests — a decision that had the effect of stopping several forestry projects.
Controversy surrounding the animal looks set to continue. In a press release discussing the Species Status Assessment that prompted the agency’s decision, the Western Environmental Law Center claimed that “the administration has altered its content significantly to suggest delisting....WELC will sue the administration over this when the time comes.”
Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at email@example.com, or at 758-4407.