MISSOULA – A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is arbitrarily excluding “critical habitat” that could be occupied by the elusive Canada lynx, which were listed a decade ago as threatened.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled Wednesday the agency excluded large swaths of Western habitat from protection when it recommended in 2009 that 39,000 square miles in Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington be designated as critical habitat.
He said in his ruling that tens of thousands of acres in southwest Montana, north and central Idaho and throughout Colorado should have been considered for protection.
Fish and Wildlife Service representatives, who were not available for comment Thursday, had argued the agency excluded some habitat in the West because there was no evidence lynx were reproducing there. But the judge said the absence of that evidence was not necessarily cause for exclusion, especially if the area hasn’t been surveyed for breeding animals.
The Sierra Club, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Native Ecosystems Council and Center for Native Ecosystems filed suit in U.S. District Court in 2009, saying more designated habitat is needed in Colorado, Montana and Idaho.
Michael Garrity, executive director at the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said Molloy’s ruling basically told the Fish and Wildlife Service to go back and take another look at its lynx plan.
“The Endangered Species Act requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to try and recover lynx populations, so they can eventually be removed from the endangered species list,” he said. “The previous critical habitat designation fell far short.”
He added that if all the lands currently excluded were designated, it would more than double the size of the critical habitat range.
Molloy said Wednesday all existing habitat designations should remain in place for the lynx until a new review is completed.
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