U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Adds Canada Lynx to the Candidate Species List;

Further Review Prompted Decision that the Species Warrants ESA Protection



FORT SNELLING, Minn., May 22, 1997 /PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today that the Canada lynx warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. The species, which is believed to exist in very low numbers in the Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and was historically reported in Iowa, Indiana and Ohio, will not be proposed for listing at this time because other species are in more critical need.

This "warranted but precluded" finding means the Service will reexamine this finding in 12 months, and the species is now considered a candidate species. As a candidate species, the Service recommends that the lynx be taken into consideration during environmental planning, however, the lynx receives no protection under the Act.

The Service's announcement comes in response to a lawsuit that challenged a 1994 decision that the lynx did not warrant listing. In making today's decision, Service biologists reexamined the information in the 1994 administrative record and new information available since the 1994 finding and consulted experts on the Canada lynx. Review of these data show that habitat loss and modification, past harvest, inadequate regulatory mechanisms to restore lynx and their habitat and increased human access to suitable forest, are threatening the species.

Great Lakes-Big Rivers Regional Director Bill Hartwig said, "Lynx are extremely rare in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Numbers of the only lynx species in North America have decreased significantly throughout the lower 48 states. The Service's Mountain-Prairie Region, headquartered in Colorado, has the lead for this species. Due to limited resources and other species in worse condition than the lynx, they must deal with listing efforts for other species at this time and will revisit this finding in a year."

"We will make every effort in considering the status of the lynx as we conduct our work in the areas the lynx has historically occupied," Hartwig said. "We are focused on gathering information on lynx numbers in our Region and looking into things that might increase those numbers."

To determine how to prioritize species known to be experiencing declines in their numbers and habitat, the Service employs a priority system based on magnitude of threat, imminence of threat to the species and biological uniqueness of the species. The priorities are assigned a numeric value of one to twelve, one being the highest priority for protection. The lynx has been assigned a priority of 3 in the lower 48 states by the Mountain-Prairie Region.

During this most recent review of information, the Service determined the Canada lynx in the contiguous United States to be a "distinct population segment," because its population is delineated by an international political boundary that coincides with differences in status and management. In addition, it is important to conserve the population of lynx in the lower 48 states because its loss would leave a significant gap in the range of a species.

Canada lynx have been observed in 22 of the contiguous United States. The evidence of historical and present lynx occurrence in six of those states is limited and suggests that lynx were never abundant or consistently represented in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio or Virginia. The Service believes that historical lynx observations, trapping records and other documented evidence in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado confirms lynx as a resident species in those 16 states. At present, however, the Service is only able to confirm the presence of Canada lynx in Montana, Washington, Wyoming and Maine.

The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) has large well-furred paws for hunting in deep snow at high elevations; long tufts on the ears and a falred facial ruff, and a short, black-tipped tail. Males average 22 pounds and about 34 inches in length with females being slightly smaller.

On January 30, 1996, the Defenders of Wildlife and 14 other plaintiffs filed suit to challenge the Service's 1994 finding that the lynx did not warrant listing. U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler subsequently issued an opinion and order that set aside the finding and remanded the decision back to the Service for reconsideration. In addition, the order imposed a 60-day deadline for the Service to publish its finding in the Federal Register no later than May 27, 1997.

The lynx is listed as an endangered species in both Michigan and Wisconsin, and as protected game with no open season in Minnesota. There are no state designations for the lynx in Indiana, Iowa and Ohio, where the species populations are historically seen as incidental rather than resident species.


COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CANADA LYNX

  1. What is a Canada lynx?
    The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), the only lynx in North America, is a medium-sized cat with long legs; large well-furred paws; long tufts on the ears; and a short, black-tipped tail. Measurements for adult males average 22 lbs. in weight and 33.5 inches in length, with an average weight for females at 19 lbs. and 32 inches in length.

  2. Are there other species of lynx in the United States?
    The Canada lynx is the only lynx in North America.

  3. What are lynxcats?
    Lynxcats is a term used by some people that includes both the lynx and bobcat, a North American relative of the Canada lynx. Bobcats are usually found in lower elevations during the winter, as they are not as well adapted to deep snow conditions.

  4. What do lynx eat?
    Lynx are highly dependent on snowshoe hare, but when hare populations drop they also prey on other small mammals and birds. This change in diet causes sudden drops in the productivity of adult females and survival of young.

  5. What kind of habitat do lynx require?
    In the eastern states, lynx live in forests that are transitional between boreal/ coniferous and northern deciduous forests. In the western states they live in subalpine/coniferous forests. Mature forests with downed logs and windfalls provide cover for denning sites, escape, and protection from severe weather. Early successional stages of forests provide habitat for the lynx's primary prey, snowshoe hare. Timber harvest can be used to achieve the early successional stages of forest preferred by snowshoe hares, although it takes time (15 years or more) for these harvested areas to reach this desired stage. Intensive tree harvesting, like clear cutting and thinning, can eliminate Canada lynx denning habitat and result in reduced cover, unusable forest openings, and monotypic stands with sparse understory. It is thought that, if properly designed, forestry practices could be modified to benefit lynx.

  6. How much habitat do they need?
    The range of a lynx includes 5 to 94 square miles. They are capable of moving extremely long distances in search of food.

  7. What is the historical and current range of the Canada lynx in the contiguous United States?
    Historical range of the lynx in the contiguous United States includes 16 states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. In addition, evidence of historical (and present) lynx occurrence in six states is extremely limited and suggests that lynx were never abundant or consistently represented in the native fauna in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia.

    The current range includes the states of Maine, Montana, Washington and Wyoming where the Service can confirm that the lynx exists. In the states of Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin lynx are believed to exist but in extremely low numbers.

  8. What is the historical and present range in North America of the Canada lynx outside the contiguous U.S.?
    The historical and present North American range of the Canada lynx includes Alaska and that part of Canada that extends from the Yukon and Northwest Territories south to the United States border, and east to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

  9. Is the Canada lynx a resident of the lower 48 states?
    The Service solicited the opinions of 31 Canada lynx experts and/or conservation biologists on this question and reviewed the available information. Evidence suggests that lynx populations in the contiguous United States numerically increase from dispersal during peak population cycles of lynx/snowshoe hares in Canada, but it does not suggest that historically dispersal was necessary to maintain the contiguous United States population. The information indicates that suitable habitat currently exists (and existed to a greater extent historically) in the lower 48 states and that snowshoe hare populations, the lynx's primary food source, currently exist (and also existed historically). The Service has determined that the lynx was a resident in 16 states, but they occurred in dispersed populations at relatively low densities. Canada lynx populations existed in the subalpine/coniferous forests of the western United States and in the ecotone between boreal and northern hardwood forests in the eastern United States.

  10. Are lynx disappearing?
    Yes. In years past, populations of lynx have been substantially reduced or extirpated due to over utilization throughout the contiguous United States.

    Due to high prices for lynx pelts in the 1970's and 1980's (up to $500 each), there was a continuous and sustained increase in the number of people trapping for lynx in states where trapping for lynx was still legal. Extensive trapping coupled with natural cyclic population lows in southern Canada impacted the lynx's ability to recover, causing depletions of lynx of breeding age in the United States. As with any species where the population is very low, any action that causes a loss is magnified.

  11. What is the legal status of the Canada lynx in the 16 states within its historical range?
    In the 16 states in the contiguous United States where the Canada lynx was considered to be a resident species, lynx are classified as endangered by five states (Vermont-1972, New Hampshire-1980, Wisconsin-1972, Michigan-1987, as threatened in 1983, and Colorado-1975). Lynx are classified as threatened by Washington (1993). Utah has classified the lynx as a sensitive species. Two States officially classify them as extirpated (Pennsylvania and Massachusetts). Despite being classified as small game or furbearers, Canada lynx are fully protected from harvest by Maine (1967), New York (1967), Minnesota (1984), Wyoming (1973), and Oregon (1997). Canada lynx trapping seasons still occur in Montana and Idaho, but are severely restricted. Montana's quota is 3 and Idaho's is 2. Once the quota is reached, the states issue a notice that the season for lynx is closed for the remainder of the year.

  12. What is the status of lynx in individual states?
    (What is the official state status of the lynx?)

    Maine: (Furbearer but with no open season) A statewide track survey (including 2,490--1-km transects) was started in 1994/1995 winter and was conducted for 3 successive years which yielded tracks on 54 of the 2,490, 1-km transects. However, the sampling effort was reduced by 70 percent in 1995/96 and by 60 percent in 1996/97 and failed to produce a single lynx track. Perhaps 200 animals or less remain.

    New Hampshire: (Listed as Endangered in 1980) A bounty was placed on the lynx until 1965. Probably extirpated.

    Vermont: (Listed as Endangered in 1972) Numbers very low. Considered rare.

    New York: (Protected small game with no open season). Considered extirpated.

    Pennsylvania: (Extirpated) It was probably never common.

    Massachusetts: (Extirpated) It was probably never common.

    Minnesota: (Protected game animal with no open season since 1984). A bounty was placed on the lynx until 1965. Habitat available, but lynx considered to be rare.

    Wisconsin: (Listed as Endangered in 1972) A bounty was placed on the lynx until 1957. Occurrence is rare.

    Michigan: (Listed as Endangered in 1974, again in 1987) Conservation efforts limited because little is known about the species. Last breeding record was 1976. Species is rare.

    Washington: (Listed as Threatened in 1993) Lynx occupy 5 of the 6 areas considered to be lynx habitat in the State of Washington. Much of these areas are in Federal, Tribal, and State ownership. Population of 96 to 191 individuals based on 1993 study.

    Oregon: (Protected Furbearer with no open season) Thought to be extirpated.

    Idaho: (Furbearer) 1990 study showed stable or declining population. Recent confirmed records are scarce. Considered rare.

    Montana: (Classified as a Furbearer in 1977). Classified nongame with no regulatory protection until 1977. 376 lynx harvested in 1963-64 season -- however it is likely that this figure includes some bobcats. Highest numbers taken since 1977 were in 1979 and 1984 when 62 lynx were taken in each season. State quotas have been decreased from 135 in 1982 to 2 presently. Montana has the highest remaining lynx population in the lower 48 states.

    Utah: (Sensitive) Southern margin of lynx habitat; most of the state of Utah may have habitat more suitable for bobcat. May be extirpated from state, although it is possible that some exist in high, inaccessible areas of the Uintah Mountains. Considered rare.

    Wyoming: (Protected as nongame with no open season since 1973) A bounty was placed on the lynx until 1957. Study of lynx started in late 1996. Three lynx trapped since study began. Considered rare.

    Colorado: (Listed as Endangered in 1975) Considered to be the extreme southern edge of range. From late 1800's to 1993, only 65 reliable records. Considered rare.


  13. What does a finding of warranted but precluded for the Canada lynx mean?
    This means that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finds that there is sufficient information that listing of the Canada lynx in the contiguous 48 states is warranted, but because there are other species that are in more dire need of being listed and therefore have a higher listing priority, it cannot list the Canada lynx at this time. When a species is found to be warranted, but precluded, the Service will do a subsequent finding within 12 months, or will evaluate the finding sooner if significant new information becomes available.

  14. How will a warranted but precluded finding affect people living/working in lynx habitat?
    It will have no effect on people. A warranted but precluded finding does not add the lynx to the Threatened and Endangered List; it is merely a recognition of the status of the animal. The warranted but precluded finding does result in the lynx being added to the list of candidate species, but candidate species have no protection under the Endangered Species Act. It allows the Service to update this finding in a year so that if its status declines or improves, the Service can prioritize its actions, depending on priority of the needs of all species in trouble at that time. With this finding, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that the number of lynx has declined substantially and that its status is such that it should be considered for inclusion to the Threatened & Endangered List, BUT there areother species in worse trouble. Being able to prioritize the needs of plants and animals experiencing decline allows the Service to help those species most in need first.

  15. If the lynx is warranted but precluded, can we expect that at some point it will be listed? If not, why not?
    Yes, the Canada lynx will be proposed for listing unless its status improves or new information shows that its status is better than we now believe. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will review the status of the lynx in a year. It is hoped that at that time additional information, including data from surveys and studies conducted by universities, private organizations and others will be available to help determine its status.

  16. Is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service going to do anything about the lynx while the warranted but precluded finding remains in effect and it is a candidate for the Threatened and Endangered List?
    Species that are candidates for the Threatened and Endangered Species List have no protection under the Endangered Species Act. But, as a result of this review of available information on the lynx, it is very apparent that additional information is needed and that the species needs to be considered when projects are being implemented that will impact this small population and its habitat. With this finding, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be encouraging universities, private organizations, states, tribes, Federal agencies and others to undertake studies, surveys, etc., that will help provide information as to the survival needs of the lynx and to consider the lynx and its habitat when planning projects that could affect the lynx.

  17. If the Canada lynx is listed, what impact would it have on people?
    What human activities most affect the lynx?

    If the lynx is listed, and even at the present time, those activities that most affect the lynx are timbering, trapping and road access.

    Timbering: Adjustments in timbering practices, such as patterns and techniques, may be necessary in some cases to create or maintain suitable lynx habitat.

    Trapping: If the lynx is listed, it would be fully protected and no harvesting would be allowed in the states where the trapping season is closed. The Service would have to decide whether a few animals could continue to be trapped in Montana and Idaho, the only 2 states where lynx can now be legally trapped. Presently, because lynx are so easily trapped and their numbers are so low, any fatalities caused from accidental or illegal trapping dramatically affect re-establishment and recovery of the lynx. Road access: If the lynx is listed, there would be a more thorough review of how roads and human access affect lynx. Depending on the results, the Service would work with affected parties to develop solutions that work for the lynx and the land user. Access is an area where additional information is needed to determine exactly how road or large clearings affect lynx. For example, snowmobiling allows other predators such as bobcat and coyotes to access, via snowpacked roads, deep snow habitat that was once only reachable by the lynx. Much of the problem has been the fact that so little is known about the lynx that management techniques have not been adjusted to accommodated the needs of this animal.

  18. What factors does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service consider as significant threats to the continued existence of the lynx in the lower 48 states?
    • loss and/or modification of habitat;
    • past commercial harvest (trapping), which is partially responsible for the extremely small lynx population;
    • inadequate regulatory mechanisms to protect lynx habitat; and
    • other factors such as increased human access into suitable habitat and human-induced changes in competition between species (e.g., bobcats and coyotes).

  19. What factor is most affecting the lynx habitat?
    Human alteration of forests. Examples are timber harvest, roading, urbanization, ski developments, certain fire suppression measures, and some types of forest cutting practices.

  20. Does timber harvest affect Canada lynx?
    Forestry practices can be beneficial or detrimental to lynx populations, depending upon the manner in which they are conducted.

  21. What are some of the effects of timber harvest?
    The impacts of logging conducted during the late 1800's continue to affect lynx habitat. Extensive tracts of predominantly softwood forests were harvested and burned over in the late 1800's and early 1900's were subsequently replaced with hardwoods. Hardwood forests typically did not supply adequate cover for the snowshoe hare, therefore hare populations declined and have continued to do so with the large-scale forest maturation. Further forest clearings increased the numbers of white-tailed deer and subsequent expansion of potential competitors of the lynx; i.e., bobcats and coyotes.

  22. Has a change in fire management affected the lynx?
    Yes. Forest fires naturally maintained mosaics of early successional forest stands and unburned bogs, swamps, and mature conifer forest, forming ideal snowshoe hare and Canada lynx habitat. Suppression of forest fires in the west has allowed forests to mature, thereby reducing the mosaic pattern of habitat needed by Canada lynx.

  23. What effect has the increased human access into lynx habitat had on the decline in lynx numbers?
    Increased human access into lynx habitat adds a significant threat to Canada lynx because it has increased the likelihood of lynx encountering people, which may result in more lynx deaths by intentional and unintentional shooting, trapping, and being hit by automobiles.

  24. How does trapping affect lynx?
    Lynx are easily trapped. Once prey is located, Canada lynx concentrate efforts in areas where prey densities are high. It is possible for a trapper to remove a large proportion of a local lynx population, even if that lynx population is low, by trapping in such areas. Unregulated trapping occurred for decades in the contiguous United States, and bounties were paid for lynx in several states until recently.

  25. Are lynx still trapped?
    Lynx are only legally trapped in Idaho and Montana. The annual quota for lynx in Montana and Idaho is 2 and 3 respectively. During the last two decades, states have adjusted their lynx trapping seasons according to available data in each state. As lynx numbers declined, seasons were closed or drastically reduced.

  26. Why was it valued as a furbearer?
    Periodically, as with other furbearers, the lynx was in high demand from the fashion industry. This demand causes a rise in the price of a pelt; thus causing an increase in the trapping pressure on the lynx. The pelt of the lynx was often used in coats and other outer garments because of its softness to the touch, warmth and appearance.

  27. What is the size of the lynx population?
    Because the lynx is such a secretive animal and there are no reliable population estimates for any region, the size of the total population is unknown. Available information indicates that it is extremely low.

  28. If population numbers are not available for the Canada lynx, how do you know that the population has declined?
    Harvest (trapping) records, field surveys, and the number of lynx sightings reported were used as an indication of the population trend. Although trend information does not provide information on the size of a population, it does indicate if the size of the population is increasing, decreasing, or remaining stable. States have closed or severely restricted trapping seasons in response to declining numbers of lynx harvested and/or reported.

  29. How is the lynx population doing in Canada?
    Because Canadian populations also were impacted by forest practices, habitat conversion/ fragmentation, and over harvest, it will take time for them to recover sufficiently to begin dispersing into the United States. Canada lynx populations in portions of Quebec apparently have not yet fully recovered despite increasing populations. Because of concern over a potentially declining lynx population, trapping seasons have been closed in British Columbia for the past three years and in Manitoba for the past two years.

  30. Did the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receive any additional information when determining its latest findings on the lynx?
    Some, but not much. The Service's new finding on the lynx is based on the information from the 1994 finding, additional data gathered from 1994-1997, and some information that was received as recently as the last 60 days. In addition, since the 1994 finding, the Service has finalized its vertebrate population policy, which applies to this species. This policy includes two elements used to determine whether species' population segments are distinct populations under the Act. The two elements applied to each potential distinct vertebrate population are discreteness and significance. Once it has been determined that a population has these two elements and therefore meets the definition of a distinct population, the specific population is then evaluated using the five listing factors used to determine if it meets the definition of either threatened or endangered (described in question #34).

  31. How does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determine the order for including species on the threatened and endangered species list?
    Guidelines for assigning listing priorities were published in the Federal Register on September 21, 1983. The guidelines describe a system for considering three factors in assigning a species a numerical listing priority on a scale of 1 to 12. The three factors are on a magnitude of threat (high or moderate to low), immediacy of threat (imminent or non-imminent) and taxonomic distinctiveness (monotypic genus, species, or subspecies/population). If determined to be a "population," as the lynx in the contiguous United States has been determined to be, listing priority numbers of 3, 6, 9, or 12 (the smaller the number, the higher the priority to list) could be possible. The Service believes the threats facing the lynx in the continental United States are high and imminent, therefore the highest priority that can be assigned to a "population" -- 3 -- was assigned to the lynx.

  32. Are there any other policies about determining the priority to list a species?
    Yes, because of budgetary constraints and the lasting effects of the congressionally-imposed listing moratorium (in effect April 10, 1995 through April 26, 1996), in 1996 the Service initiated a more stringent system for following listing priorities. The Service is currently processing administrative findings on petitions according to the final listing priority guidance published for fiscal year 1997. The guidance clarifies the order in which the Service will process listing activities with appropriated funds.

    The listing priority guidance implemented a 4-tiered system:

      tier 1 -- emergency listing actions;
      tier 2 -- processing final decisions on proposed listings;
      tier 3 -- resolving the conservation status of candidate species, processing administrative findings on petitions, and reclassification of threatened species to endangered status; and
      tier 4 -- processing critical habitat determinations and processing delistings or reclassifications from endangered to threatened.

    Findings on listing petitions that are not assigned to tier 1 (emergency listing actions), such as the Canada lynx finding, will be processed as a tier 3 priority. Because the Mountain-Prairie Region is near completion of its pending tier 2 actions, it has begun processing high priority tier 3 actions.

  33. If the lynx has been determined to be warranted, but precluded, what species are ahead of the lynx for listing in the Mountain-Prairie Region?
    These mountain-prairie species are addressed in the attached table. All priority 3 species in the Mountain-Prairie Region would be addressed AFTER species with a priority of 1 and 2. As you can see, there are two species with a priority rating of 3. These are being addressed presently as they are part of a settlement agreement reached on a lawsuit involving many species. Once the species ranked priority 1 and 2 (and those two involved in a lawsuit) are addressed, the Region can start working on those with a listing priority of 3.

  34. What determines if a species meets the definition of endangered or threatened?
    The Service must determine if presence of one or more of the five factors listed below has caused a species' status to decline to where it meets the definition of endangered or threatened.
      A. The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range.
      B. Over utilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes.
      C. Disease or predation.
      D. Inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.
      E. Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.

    Definition of endangered/threatened: Endangered: Any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range
    Threatened: Any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

  35. Why was the distinct vertebrate population policy established?
    The "distinct population segment" policy is designed to clarify that term for listing, delisting, or reclassifying species under the Endangered Species Act and applies to vertebrate animals that many be endangered or threatened in part of their range but are more numerous elsewhere. The Endangered species Act protects species, subspecies, and "...any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife..." which are endangered or threatened. (Examples of populations on the list include the gray wolf, grizzly bear, woodland caribou, Florida population of caracara (a bird), and bald eagle.) Bald eagle populations, for example, are healthy in Alaska but in the lower 48 states the breeding population reached extremely low numbers and are now listed as "threatened.

    In the case of the lynx, a distinct population segment means that lynx in the lower 48 United States are considered discreet in that this population is delineated by an international political boundary that coincides with differences in status and management. In addition, the population of lynx in the lower 48 states is considered significant because loss of this population would leave a significant gap in the range of the species.



SOURCE:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

CONTACT:
Ron Refsnider, 612-725-3536, or Larry Dean,612-725-3602,
both of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service




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