Federal wildlife officials say the nation’s once-threatened population of Canada lynx is in recovery, and can be taken off the endangered species list. The move caps years of controversy over the species’ health in Maine.
State biologist Jen Vashon has been using radio collars and winter-tracking surveys to chart Maine’s lynx population for more than a decade. She says the tuft-eared, big-pawed cat’s numbers are healthier than ever, with more than 1,000 living in the state and expanding their territory.
“It’s been exciting to watch. The population has actually continued to grow over the last decade, with lynx being very common in northern Maine and now showing up in sections of western and eastern Maine,” she says.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service says that after a comprehensive, national assessment of the species, the science shows it’s in recovery throughout its habitat in the country’s northern tier and should be removed from the strict regime of protection provided by the Endangered Species Act.
Federal spokeswoman Meaghan Racey says the lynx’s original listing as threatened resulted partly from a lack of protections on federal lands that provide most of the cat’s western habitat. Those protections are now in place, she says. But she credited stakeholders in Maine, which has the largest single lynx population of any state, for their conservation and science efforts around the species.
“The growth of that population over the past 20 years is really thanks to the collaboration among the state, the forest products council in Maine, the landowners in the state, the tribes there and the other conservation organizations there that have advanced research and secured a future for the species there,” she says.
Not everyone is confident that the species’ future is secure, though. Daryl Dejoy directs the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, and he has been battling federal and state wildlife officials over a policy that has permitted a small number of lynx to be killed in traps set for other fur-bearing animals.
Dejoy and other conservation groups lost a court battle on that issue earlier this year, and news that the species would lose endangered species protection was another blow.
“One-thousand or 1,200 animals is not a particularly high bar to set for a high population of a wildlife species. I believe the lynx definitely merits continued protection. I believe they really didn’t feel they had to take climate change into consideration almost at all,” he says.
The recovery assessment is just the first step that leads toward delisting. The federal government will take public comment on the proposed delisting, and if the lynx is in fact delisted, will continue to monitor the animal’s populations, including in Maine, for another five years to ensure the recovery holds.