Court asked to speed up lynx recovery plan

The U.S. government declared the snow-loving big cats a threatened species across the Lower 48 states in 2000. But officials haven’t come up with a mandated recovery plan, citing budget limitations and competing concerns from other troubled species.

After a federal judge in Montana criticized the long delay, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offered to complete the work by early 2018.

A coalition of wildlife advocacy groups says that’s not soon enough. They’re asking U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy to order the work done by late 2016.

Lynx dwell in the forest, where they’re rarely seen, and there’s no reliable estimate of their population. They range across parts of 14 states in the Northeast, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes and the Cascade Range of Washington and Oregon.

Lynx are about the size of a bobcat, with large paws that help the predator stay on top of the deep snow typical through its range. Those paws also make it easier to capture its primary prey, snowshoe hares.

Threats to its survival vary across its range and include timber harvesting, development and other factors.

The government has designated large areas in the West as critical habitat for lynx in recent years. A pending proposal would expand that designation to about 28,000 square miles of public land, primarily in northern Montana and the region surrounding Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.

But an attorney for the wildlife advocates said the designations amount to a “paper exercise” in the absence of a recovery plan’s detailed road map for protecting lynx.

“I haven’t seen any statement from any agency that lynx are improving,” said attorney Matthew Bishop with the Western Environmental Law Center. “If anything, we’re seeing a lot of industrial logging projects even in lynx critical habitat.”

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