When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied the Canada lynx a place on the list of endangered species last December, conservation groups cried foul, saying the agency ignored the recommendations of its field biologists.
Politics pushed the decision, says
Jasper Carlton, president of the Biodiversity Legal Foundation in
Boulder, Colo., which has challenged the decision in federal court
in Washington, D.C. (HCN, 5/15/95).
charges that upper-level officials in the agency caved in to
pressure from the Forest Service and timber companies that want to
log the Northern Rockies. "The Forest Service would have to make
revisions of forest plans and set lower road-density standards, if
the lynx were listed," he says.
The Fish and
Wildlife Service's Denver chief for the listing and recovery of
endangered species, Olin Bray, says that the recommendation from
the regional office was reversed.
proposal did propose the species for listing," Bray says, "but it
was only a recommendation. The Washington office makes the final
finding, as they have the authority to do so."
The federal finding goes against Washington
state's decision to list the species as endangered in the
northeastern Cascades. "This is the first time in history that the
federal government has fought a state finding," Carlton says.
"Usually it's the states that are fighting a decision."
Historically, the lynx once ranged through New
England, New York, the upper Midwest and the Northern Rockies. A
three-year review by the Biodiversity Legal Foundation found the
lynx to be endangered in all areas except Idaho and Montana, where
the animal is still threatened.
Data are sketchy,
but all reports indicate the Northern Rockies support scattered
pockets of healthy lynx populations.
lack of solid numbers, the Fish and Wildlife Service finding last
December downplays any threat to the lynx population in the lower
48: "The lynx, generally considered rare because of its secretive
nature, is actually common throughout its northern America range."
The agency also says the Rocky Mountain region represents the
southernmost limit of the lynx's traditional range, and that it was
never common there.
The federal Wildlife Service
relied heavily on trappers' logbooks of animal sightings and
tracks, trapping records and state surveys. According to Brian
Giddings, a biologist for the state of Montana, from 700 to 1,050
lynx roam the forests of Montana. He says the lynx are healthy and
there's no need for an endangered listing.
Roy of the National Wildlife Federation disagrees. He says
Montana's monitoring is done in a "hit or miss fashion."
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the
federal finding is its assertion that the number and range of the
lynx south of the Canadian border depend on the dispersal of young
animals from Canada. In essence, it says, when populations of the
lynx's main prey, the snowshoe hare, increase north of the border,
so does the lynx population, which pushes young lynx south into new
territory in the U.S.
The Fish and Wildlife
Service used the local invasion theory to justify its decision not
to list the lynx. As long as the lynx population in Canada was not
in trouble, the agency reasoned, low numbers in the lower 48 were
no reason to panic and list the species.
Ruediger of the U.S. Forest Service Region 1, who coordinates
state, federal and nongovernmental research on carnivores like the
lynx, doesn't buy it.
The invasion theory is
"built on conjecture," says Ruediger. "Lynx in the Northern Rockies
may be connected with those in Canada, but we sustain our own
populations in the U.S."
Lynx habitat in the
boreal forest of northern Canada is homogenous and unbroken,
Ruediger adds. But in the U.S., the lynx homegrounds are "peninsula
habitats," fragmented and patchy, located along the rugged mountain
Ruediger points out that to get to
Montana, the lynx of northern Canada must pass through southern
British Columbia and Alberta, where lynx habitat is patchy, as in
Montana, Idaho and Washington.
"Everything is not
fine in those provinces with the lynx either," he
Ruediger forwarded his committee's findings
to the Fish and Wildlife Service's field office in Helena, which
passed it on to the Denver office along with its own recommendation
to list the species as endangered. The final decision ignored the