Yesterday, a coalition of conservation organizations secured a legal settlementthat will aid in the recovery of threatened Canada lynx.As a result, theU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will abandon plans to remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the struggling snow cat in the contiguous United States and initiate a recovery plan for the species after nearly 20 years of delay.
The agreement stems from a legal challenge wildlife advocates brought against the Service for its failure to prepare a recovery plan for the threatened Canada lynx over this extended period.
The tentative date for a final recovery plan is December 1, 2024.
Recovery plans are important tools required by the ESA, often referred to as the “roadmap” for conservation because they spell out what the agency needs to do in order to recover a species and how best to do it. Recovery plans also include metrics that must be met before the Service may deem a species recovered.
In 2013, conservation organizations sued the Service for failing to prepare a recovery plan for threatened lynx, following nearly 14 years of delay. The court agreed and directed the agency to prepare a recovery plan by January 2018.
A month before the January 2018 deadline, however, the Service decided to forgo preparing a recovery plan on the theory that lynx are already “recovered” and no longer threatened in the contiguous United States. The Service said it would therefore focus its time and energy on delisting and removing protections for the species, rather than recovery planning.
“We are glad that the Biden administration is taking steps in the right direction by agreeing to draft a recovery plan that will finally give the Canada lynx a chance at recovery,” said Lindsay Larris, Wildlife Program Director at WildEarth Guardians, in a statement. “We are hopeful that this decision is a harbinger of things to come from a Fish and Wildlife Service that will consider how to best protect species in the face of climate change, and will rely on science and not politics in taking bold action to prevent extinction.”
Lynx and their habitat are threatened by wildfires, logging, development, motorized access, and trapping, which disturb and fragment the landscape. Lynx rely heavily on snowshoe hare, and like their preferred prey, are specially adapted to living in mature boreal forests with dense cover and deep snowpack. Climate change may also increase hare predation from other species, resulting in increased competition and displacement of lynx.
“This is the right decision,” stated Matthew Bishop, senior attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “The Service now has about three years to finalize a recovery plan. This sets the agency up for success in terms of a legally sound, science-based plan while the Biden administration is still in charge. This is a victory for lynx, science, and for everyone who values healthy ecosystems.”
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