Last Chance for the Lynx
Joel Bourne

The North American Lynx has much in common with Nepal's legendary Snow Leopard. Both cats sport ashen coats, have snowshoe paws, and have been wiped out of much of their range.

AUDUBON Magazine May/June 1997
Volume 99,
Number 3
Page 22

In the continental United States, only 1,000 lynx are known to exist. Yet at a February hearing in Washington, D.C., Defenders of Wildlife and 12 other environmental groups still had to challenge a controversial Fish and Wildlife Service decision denying endangered-species protection for the lynx. The agency had overruled three of its own regional offices and numerous independent biologists. After hearing the case, Federal District Court Judge Gladys Kessler noted that "there seems to be a great listing of the scientific community to one side" and promised a speedy ruling.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials contend that the animal's "core habitat" is now confined to Canada -- though they admit the cats were once found in 21 states and now live in 4. Critics charge that politics outweighed science in the decision. Since large old-growth tracts were set aside for the northern spotted owl in 1993, loggers have moved into the lynx's backyard. Many environmentalists believe the Clinton administration prefers maintaining the status quo to tackling the thorny issue again.

Lynx were once found in remote wildernesses from Alaska to the Colorado Rockies and east along the Canadian border to New England. Today their habitat in the Lower 48 has shrunk to mountainous patches of roadless, old-growth conifer forest, primarily in Washington, Montana and Maine. Biologists believe rapid habitat loss, excessive trapping, and disturbance from logging roads caused populations to plummet. Credible estimates put fewer than 100 individuals each in washington and Montana; Montana still allows trapping.

The greatest concentration of lynx, about 23 animals, inhabit the Meadows, a 150,000-acre roadless area in Washington's Okanogan National Forest and Loomis State Forest. But the U.S. Forest Service plans to log 1,000 acres and cut 20 miles of roads into the heart of the Meadows. Meanwhile, Washington State intends to cut 10,000 acres of Loomis Forest and punch as many as 150 miles of new roads through lynx habitat. "The sad part," says Mark Skatrud, a member of Friends of the Loomis Forest and a plaintiff in the endangered-species suit, "is seeing lynx tracks and knowing what's going to happen."

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February 12, 1997

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