A federal judge heard arguments Monday on a petition to suspend some trapping throughout northern Maine in order to avoid harming the Canada lynx.
The Animal Welfare Institute and the Wildlife Alliance of Maine have asked the court to force the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to shut down certain types of trapping until the state can get a special permit from federal authorities.
The petition was filed as part of a larger lawsuit seeking additional restrictions on trapping in Maine to protect lynx.
The groups contend that DIF&W officials are violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing trapping practices that could harm, kill or harass lynx, which are listed as a “threatened” species.
DIF&W could protect itself as well as trappers licensed by the state by acquiring a permit that allows for the limited “take” of protected species through lawful activities. DIF&W recently applied for such an “incidental take permit,” however it typically takes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 10 months or longer to process and approve an application.
Eight lynx were reported caught by trappers in 2007, and at least two have been caught since trapping began last month, DIF&W officials said Monday. All 10 of the lynx reportedly suffered little to no visible injuries and were released, according to the trappers.
But representatives for the institute and the alliance argue that the cats may have suffered unseen injuries, and that more lynx likely are trapped — and potentially killed — but never reported.
“The bottom line is … what the state is doing now is authorizing a ‘take’ without a permit,” Judi Brawer, an attorney for the Animal Welfare Institute and the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, told U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock on Monday.
Attorneys for the state and sportsmen’s groups urged Woodcock to allow the current trapping season to continue uninterrupted while the larger case moves forward.
“It is very difficult to reach trappers in the woods at this point,” said Jim Lister, an attorney representing the Maine Trappers Association and several other groups.
This is actually the second lawsuit filed against DIF&W over lynx and trappers.
Last year, the department settled a nearly identical lawsuit with another organization by restricting trap sizes and making other changes to avoid accidental trappings. The new regulations apply in all of Aroostook and northern portions of Piscataquis, Penobscot and Somerset counties.
But the plaintiffs in the current lawsuit point out that eight lynx were caught in less than one month despite the new rules.
Woodcock pressed Brawer for evidence that lynx are harmed when they are trapped accidentally and then released.
“All I’ve got is eight lynx that get caught in foothold traps and walk away ultimately, one a little gimpy,” Woodcock said. “Where is the irreparable harm?”
Brawer responded that traps can cause serious injuries that would be found only by a veterinarian or other expert.
“We do not know what has been happening to them because the state has never followed up, and that is their job,” Brawer said.
Woodcock also pressed Brawer for assurances that another group won’t be back with an identical lawsuit next year if more lynx turn up in traps.
Woodcock pointed out that Daryl DeJoy, executive director of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, is a member of another group that has filed similar lawsuits over lynx in Minnesota. Additionally, wildlife consultant Camilla Fox with the Animal Welfare Institute testified as an independent expert witness in last year’s suit.
“Are we going to get suit upon suit until trapping is made illegal in the state of Maine? Is that your goal?” Woodcock asked.
Brawer responded: “No, your honor, the goal here is to get the state compliant with the Endangered Species Act.”
Woodcock also poked holes in some of the arguments made by Lister and the state’s attorney, Christopher Taub, in their prehearing filings.
Biologists estimate that there are 500 lynx in Maine, which is the only Eastern U.S. state with a self-sustaining population of the reclusive wildcats. But recent studies suggest that Maine’s population of lynx may be shrinking due, in large part, to declines in the number of snowshoe hares, which are the principal food source for lynx.