Lynx, (c) Alanna Schmidt / National Geographic Stock
Lynx, ©Timothy J. Catton/USFS
Lynx (©Timothy J. Catton/USFS)
I would be very surprised if any of you – even those living in northern states — have ever seen a Canada lynx. I’ve never seen one, despite working on wildlife conservation in northern states for years. But I sure want to, and I want future generations to share the same chance, or better…. That’s why protecting lynx habitat is so important!

Canada lynx are rare in the lower 48 states and stick to snowy, forested, northern regions where they can hunt snowshoe hares, their primary prey. Because of their unique habitat requirements, lynx populations are clumped into isolated ‘islands’ of forest habitat in parts of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Washington, Minnesota, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

What is “Critical Habitat” anyway?

This mid-sized cat was officially protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2000 in response to a petition and litigation from Defenders and our colleagues. But just protecting the species is not good enough—we also need to protect its critical habitat, the places essential to the species’ conservation. When critical habitat is designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), it simply requires that we check to see if activities that require a federal permit, license, or funding (such as building roads, energy development, and timber management) will destroy or negatively impact that habitat. It’s a simple and sensible “look before you leap” precaution. Throughout the Canada lynx’s range, direct and indirect impacts from logging, road building, fire suppression and recreation threaten the existence of the species. To give the species a chance of adapting to the warming climate in the lower 48, they need a well-connected, robust population, and they need to be able to reclaim habitats in some places where past human activity may have wiped them out or driven them away.

The Battle over Lynx Critical Habitat

The long and drawn-out battle over designating lynx critical habitat began in 2006 when the FWS’s initial designation was essentially limited to national parks that were already protected, and was thrown out by the courts after evidence that the decision was altered for political purposes by Bush Administration officials. At the time, Defenders and our conservation allies threatened to take legal action and urged the FWS to revisit its flawed critical habitat designation. The agency’s second designation in February 2009 covered a much larger area—approximately 40,000 square miles, 20 times the amount of land as the 2006 proposal—but this was challenged in courts in 2010 and a revision was again needed. So now, we’re looking to ensure that the third time is the charm!

What You Can Do To Help

Earlier this year, FWS released a proposal to revise lynx critical habitat. Defenders’ team is currently working on analyzing and submitting our comments on that proposal to ensure that these changes help put lynx on the road to long-term recovery throughout its range.

Now is the time for you to participate in helping lynx maintain high-quality habitat into the future! The public comment period is open until December 26, 2013, to give folks the opportunity to weigh in on the proposal for the critical habitat revision. Click here to submit a comment!

Here are some talking points you can use to craft your comment to USFWS and help protect habitat for our vulnerable lynx:
  • I support expanding the Endangered Species Act’s protections to lynx ‘‘where found within contiguous United States.’’ This is a logical step to better protect lynx wherever they roam, as they sometimes travel far and wide.
  • I also applaud the proposed designation of more than 41,000 square miles as critical habitat in parts of Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Wyoming. Lynx need this entire habitat to remain intact and of high quality.
  • Parts of Colorado, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine have known reproducing populations of lynx and high quality lynx habitat and should also be designated as critical habitat. The Kettle Range in northeastern Washington also contains high quality lynx habitat and persistent evidence of lynx occupancy. It should also be designated as critical habitat. Each of these areas is essential to lynx recovery!

Kylie Paul, Rockies & Plains Representative