Two lynx were found shot dead in northern Maine in November 2016, prompting an investigation by local and federal officials. A reward of $19,000 for information leading to convictions for the killings is being offered by AWI and other nonprofit, state, and federal sources. The previous year, AWI and allies filed a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of a federal incidental take permit (ITP) issued to the state of Maine by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. (See AWI Quarterly, fall 2015.)
One of the lynx found in November was wearing a GPS collar as part of a three-year study being conducted by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, while the other was shot after being caught in a steel-jaw leghold trap. (Another lynx was reported fatally shot a month earlier, though the details of this incident are confidential due to an ongoing criminal investigation.)
Although it is illegal to intentionally kill Canada lynx, these secretive cats are still susceptible to traps and snares set out for coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and other wildlife, as well as to hunters mistaking them for bobcats. Lynx nearly disappeared from Maine in the 1960s due to extensive hunting for their pelts, and are now a federally protected species and a “species of special concern” under Maine law.
AWI and other plaintiff groups, represented by the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School, presented their arguments to US District Judge Jon Levy in November, days before the two lynx were found dead. Plaintiffs asserted that neither the state of Maine nor the USFWS are doing enough to protect the species from being injured or killed by trappers. Although the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has placed some restrictions on trapping in lynx habitat, the ITP (which authorizes the killing or injuring of a limited number of lynx by trappers attempting to trap other animals) is insufficient to protect the species. It allows up to three lynx to be killed incidental to trapping between 2014 and 2029. Yet, mere weeks after the ITP was issued in December 2014, two lynx were killed incidental to trapping. And in 2016, more than four lynx were caught in traps.
The recent deaths, however, might not be counted against the ITP take limit because illegal takes aren’t “covered” under the permit. AWI asserts that the most reasonable interpretation would be to factor in these deaths because they are linked to trapping and have an overall negative effect on the species. Under the alternative interpretation, those who kill the lynx would have an extra incentive to ensure that the take is classified as “illegal”—for instance, by using an illegal (and particularly brutal) trap—so that even if authorities discover the lynx in the trap (not so easy to do), it would not count against the ITP limit.
Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act mandates that the USFWS revisit its decision to grant an ITP and reinitiate consultation when allowable take has been exceeded. AWI contends that the ESA’s ban on “irreversible and irretrievable commitment of resources” makes it clear that trapping in lynx habitat needs to stop unless and until the USFWS issues a modified ITP.
Meanwhile, efforts continue to apprehend those responsible for the November lynx deaths. Anyone with information about either incident can call Maine Operation Game Thief at 800-ALERT-US or 287-6057 or Maine’s public safety dispatch center in Bangor at 800-432-7381 or 973-3700.