Case Name: Center for Biological Diversity, et al. v. US Fish and Wildlife Service
Nature of Case: The Animal Welfare Institute and its co-plaintiffs brought claims against the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for allowing trappers in Maine to seriously injure and kill Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), a federally protected endangered cat. In November 2014, the USFWS issued an incidental take permit to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, enabling Maine’s trapping programs to cause incidental harm to the Canada lynx, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Each year, trappers in Maine targeting coyotes, foxes, mink, and other furbearing wildlife seriously injure and kill Canada lynx, one of the rarest wild cats in the United States. The suit claims that the USFWS’ issuance of an incidental take permit violated both the ESA, which requires that harm to Canada lynx be minimized and mitigated, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires a proper analysis of environmental impacts. The USFWS issued the permit even though it lacked measures for minimizing and mitigating harm to Canada lynx, which is required under the ESA.
Court: US District Court, District of Maine
Year Filed: 2015
Plaintiffs: Animal Welfare Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, and Wildlife Alliance of Maine
Defendants: US Fish and Wildlife Service and Daniel M. Ashe, in his official capacity as Director of US Fish and Wildlife Service
- Complaint Against the USFWS
- Motion for Summary Judgment
- Plaintiffs’ Response to Defendants’ Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment
Protection of Canada Lynx: Background
Each year trappers in Maine targeting coyotes, foxes, mink, and other furbearing wildlife seriously injure and kill Canada lynx, one of the rarest wild cats in the United States. In 2010, the Animal Welfare Institute and its co-plaintiffs brought claims against the State of Maine for allowing trappers to obtain permits to use leghold traps (also called foothold traps) that affect Canada lynx, an endangered species protected under the ESA. Leghold traps are usually used to trap coyotes and foxes, but Canada lynx can also be caught in these traps, often causing injury or death.
Incidental take of Canada lynx in leghold traps without a federal incidental take permit is a violation of the ESA. An incidental take permit allows trappers to kill or seriously injure (“take”) Canada lynx during otherwise lawful trapping activity, so long as requisite measures to minimize and mitigate harm are taken such that the permitted incidental takes will not appreciably impact the endangered species as a whole. The State of Maine applied to the USFWS for a federal incidental take permit. In November 2014, the USFWS issued the incidental take permit to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which allows trappers in Maine to seriously injure and kill Canada lynx, thus enabling Maine’s trapping programs to cause incidental harm to these animals.
In 2015, the Animal Welfare Institute and its co-plaintiffs brought claims against the USFWS for issuing that incidental take permit. The suit claims that the USFWS’ issuance of an incidental take permit violated (1) the ESA, which requires that harm to Canada lynx be minimized and mitigated, (2) the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which requires agencies to not act in an arbitrary and capricious manner, and (3) NEPA, which requires a proper analysis of environmental impacts.
In the suit, the Animal Welfare Institute and its co-plaintiffs claim the USFWS acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in approving a permit that failed to meet ESA requirements. Maine’s trapping programs lack measures that minimize and mitigate harm to Canada lynx to the maximum extent practicable, and did not ensure adequate funding for minimization and mitigation plans. In the suit, we have also objected to the use of body-gripping Conibear traps, cable restraints, and steel-jaw leghold traps in areas where Canada lynx live, as they can cause serious injury or death to Canada lynx. Lynx exclusion devices could be effective in minimizing Canada lynx injuries and deaths, but the USFWS’ permit does not require them.
The incidental take permit allows up to three lynx deaths from traps and up to 192 lynx to be captured in traps, with 183 of the 192 lynx captured to be released unharmed or with minor injuries, and no more than nine injured to the point of requiring rehabilitation prior to re-release, over the 15-year permit period. However, immediately after the permit was issued in November 2015, two Canada lynx were found dead in legally set traps within a two-week period in December.
Furthermore, NEPA requires the USFWS to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for major federal actions, including the issuance of permits, which significantly affect the quality of the environment. In 2014, the USFWS field staff confirmed that a full EIS was required for this permit, and that the EIS should include the following:
- substantial uncertainties about extent of lynx take
- degree of injury from trapping
- extensive public controversy
- past and pending lawsuits in Maine and other states
- the permit’s precedential effect on lynx permits in other states
- cumulative impacts from unreported and otherwise illegal take of lynx
- the potentially significant impacts on lynx, a threatened species under the ESA, and its critical habitat
Despite these multiple significance factors, the USFWS issued a finding of no significant impact for this permit. In addition to the ESA claims, our complaint alleges that the USFWS violated NEPA and APA by acting arbitrarily and capriciously in failing to prepare an EIS for this permit.
Meanwhile, at the state level, Maine announced new regulations for the 2015 trapping season to decrease the probability of trapping or injuring Canada lynx, including requiring lynx exclusion devices on all killer-type traps with a jaw spread not to exceed 8 inches on or above ground level. While these rules make take of lynx less likely, it is unclear whether these new rules will be sufficient for minimizing and mitigating harm to Canada lynx and ensuring trappers in Maine do not exceed the number of incidental takes allowed by the incidental take permit. The new regulations are a promising first step toward greater protection of Canada lynx, but more must be done, including banning killer-type and restraining/leghold traps in the endangered cat’s territory.
Protection of Canada Lynx: Case Media
- Court to Consider Lawsuit Aimed at Protecting Canada Lynx from Trapping Deaths, Injuries in Maine – AWI Press Release, November 2, 2016
- Environmentalists Press On with Maine Lynx Trapping Lawsuit – Portland Press Herald, August 28, 2015
- Maine Adopts New Trapping Regulations to Protect Lynx – WGME 13, August 21, 2015
- Maine Trappers Required to Take Precautions to Avoid Canada Lynx – Portland Press Herald, August 21, 2015
- Lawsuit Alleges that Feds Allowing Harm to Endangered Lynx in Maine – Maine Public Broadcasting Network, August 17, 2015
- Wildlife Groups Sue to Protect Canada Lynx in Maine – Bangor Daily News, August 17, 2015
- Wildlife Groups Sue to Stop Maine’s Trapping Season to Protect Canada Lynx – Portland Press Herald, August 17, 2015
- Lawsuit Filed to Protect Canada Lynx from Trapping Deaths, Injuries in Maine – AWI Press Release, August 17, 2015