BOISE, Idaho — Three environmental groups plan to file a federal lawsuit against Idaho if state officials don’t address incidental trapping of federally protected Canada lynx.
The groups sent a letter Monday to Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter as well as Idaho Department of Fish Game officials contending the state is violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing recreational trapping that inadvertently ensnares lynx.
Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Clearwater say the state needs an incidental take permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for recreational trapping to continue. The state has 60 days to respond.
The groups said an increase in the popularity of trapping, with nearly 2,000 licenses issued in 2012-2013, is part of the reason an incidental take permit is needed. The area in question extends north from central Idaho to the border with Canada, as well as parts of eastern Idaho.
The groups said it will be up to state and federal agencies to determine the exact area, and what type of trapping would require an incidental take permit. In the letter, the groups cite “trapping for bobcats, coyotes, wolves, and other species within lynx habitat.”
“Lynx already face threats to their habitat from climate change and declining snowpack,” said Travis Bruner of Western Watersheds Project. “So the state and federal agencies in charge of protecting them should make every effort they can.”
Mike Keckler, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said the agency couldn’t comment specifically on pending litigation.
Canada lynx, a rarely seen predator that feeds primarily on snowshoe hares, are a threatened species believed to number in the hundreds in the continental U.S. It’s unclear how many are in Idaho.
An incidental take permit would only be issued if officials determine it’s needed, and that occasionally catching a lynx wouldn’t harm the overall population.
In the last two years in Idaho, three lynx have been caught in traps intended for bobcats. One was killed after the trapper mistook it for a bobcat, and the two others were released.
In January 2012, a Canada lynx was caught in a foot-hold trap in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, the first confirmed lynx in the area in two decades. It was released.
A second lynx caught in Boundary County less than a year later was killed when a trapper mistook it for a bobcat. The trapper paid $385 in fines and restitution after reporting what happened, Keckler said. The lynx was mounted and is used in northern Idaho to help trappers and hunters learn how to identify them.
“As part of our trapper education course we go over this stuff with our trappers,” Keckler said. “We go over it and we expect them to be familiar with it.”
In January, a female lynx was caught in the Cabinet Mountain range in Idaho. A state biologist tranquilized the lynx and put a radio collar on it before it was released. Keckler said biologists continue to monitor the lynx’s movements.
“The important thing is for anyone who accidentally captures a lynx to notify Fish and Game immediately,” he said.
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