The Canada lynx is apparently doing so well in the United States that the government is taking steps to remove special protections that were put in place nearly two decades ago when the cat was deemed to be at risk of extinction. This should be a good news story for once but unfortunately, many experts think that this delisting has more to do with politics than conservation.
Found in just a handful of the southern 48 states, the range of the snow-loving Canada lynx is far more restricted than its smaller cousin, the bobcat. The felines were first listed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as threatened back in 2000 when logging and development was destroying their habitat and hunting was decreasing their numbers.
As a result, the animals were listed as protected under the Endangered Species Act, a move that disrupted many logging and road building plans on federal lands, but one that – according to the USFWS this week – has worked. In the past 17 years, the agency says that numbers have “remained resilient” and in some cases even increased.
“Not only are lynx found in more places, but signs of lynx are found more frequently during our surveys,” explained Chandler Woodcock, the commissioner at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “The research conducted by our biologists in conjunction with the USFWS showed modern forest management practices are compatible with lynx conservation.”
While this might be the official line from the government organization, there are plenty of environmentalists and conservationists lining up to say otherwise.
“This is a political decision – pure and simple,” Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, told The Washington Post. “This administration is throwing science out the window. The best science tells us that lynx are worse off than they were when originally listed in 2000.”
One of the main criticisms of the decision to remove the special protection – which is the first step to taking the lynx off the Endangered Species Act list altogether – is that evidence suggests as climate change kicks in, the snow-adapted cats are going to suffer from both reduced habitat and reduced prey that make up their main food source. The government is being accused of shortening the timescale over which they are assessing the threats to the lynx, from 2100 to 2050.
Conservationists are worried that this move will lead to the extinction of the lynx in the lower 48 states, something which currently can still be avoided.