Press Release: Court Finds That Fish & Wildlife Service’s Failure to Designate Critical Habitat in Colorado Offends the Endangered Species Act

For Immediate Release: 9/7/16

Contacts:
Matt Sandler, Staff Attorney, Rocky Mountain Wild, 303-579-5162
Paige Singer, Conservation Biologist, Rocky Mountain Wild, 303-454-3340

Canada lynx
Photo by Keith Williams

Missoula, MontanaThe U.S. District Court for the District of Montana ordered the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to reconsider its decision to exclude Colorado from Canada lynx critical habitat. Denver based Rocky Mountain Wild is a Plaintiff in one of the consolidated cases.

Critical habitat designation is usually designated for species listed as threatened or endangered through the Endangered Species Act. However, despite being recognized as a threatened species since 2000, the FWS has failed to designate the Canada lynx’s Colorado habitat on three separate occasions. Conservation organizations in the region, including Rocky Mountain Wild, have identified these areas as essential to the lynx’s survival and recovery, which has prompted lawsuits about this controversial omission.

“Twice now the Courts have sent this decision back to the Fish and Wildlife Service based on the agencies failure to designate critical habitat in Colorado,” said Matt Sandler, Staff Attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild, “hopefully this time the Service will get the point, follow the law, and finally designate critical habitat in this important part of the lynx’s range.”

The Canada lynx is highly dependent on snow-capped areas due to its reliance on the snowshoe hare as a primary food source. As climate change continues to shrink lynx habitat, conservation organizations have determined that the high-elevation areas located in the southern Colorado Rockies will become even more critical to the survival and recovery of the animal. Critical habitat designation would protect this vital habitat from oil and gas development, logging, mining, and road building.

“The lynx in the Southern Rockies are thriving, but we have to protect the places they live if they are going to continue to do so,” said Paige Singer, Conservation Biologist at Rocky Mountain Wild. “Historically, lynx populations existed in Colorado, and the reintroduction program in the Southern Rockies has been very successful. Lynx in the Southern Rockies are important to the survival of the species in the United States.”

Dana Christensen, Chief District Judge in the U.S. District Court of Montana, wrote, “In the case of Colorado…the evidence in the final rule compels the designation of critical habitat in that state.”

The Court concluded that “Given that evidence cited by the Service in the September 2014 final rule shows that a reproducing lynx population exists in Colorado, the Service’s failure, on account of marginal hare densities, to designate critical habitat to protect that population and aid in its maintenance is arbitrary, capricious, and ‘offends the ESA.’”

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Background: Canada lynx once ranged from Alaska south to northern New Mexico, west into Washington, and east into Maine. By the early 1970’s, lynx were all but eliminated from the Southern Rockies due to poisoning, trapping, shooting, and habitat degradation. In response to the local extinction of lynx in our region, the Colorado Division of Wildlife (now Colorado Parks and Wildlife) released 218 cats into the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado between 1999 and 2006 in a reintroduction effort. In 2000, Canada lynx were listed as a threatened species. Since then, there have been three failed attempts at designating critical habitat for the lynx.

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