Wildlife officials probe lynx trapping death

Posted Dec. 12, 2008, at 10:32 p.m.

Federal wildlife officials are investigating the trapping death of another Canada lynx in northern Maine.

According to documents filed in federal court, Maine game wardens discovered the dead lynx discarded in the woods off a road in Stacyville in Aroostook County on Dec. 4. Human footprints apparently led from the animal to a tree that had held a trap.

Fur and claw marks on and around the tree indicated the lynx had struggled and died in the trap, which had since been removed.

Representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is investigating the case because lynx are a federally protected species, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Bangor declined to comment.

But members of two animal welfare groups are citing the incident in a court filing seeking an immediate halt to some trapping in lynx territory.

Federal agents and Maine game wardens executed a search warrant at a Patten home last week related to the case, according to the documents. No charges had been filed as of Friday evening.

This would be the second lynx killed by trappers this season.

Lynx, which are listed as a “threatened” species, have been the subject of a heated legal dispute among Maine wildlife officials, trappers and animal welfare groups.

The Wildlife Alliance of Maine and the Animal Welfare Institute filed suit in federal court earlier this year alleging the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing trapping practices that could ensnare lynx. Maine is home to the only self-sustaining population of the reclusive wildcats in the eastern U.S.

Eight lynx were caught and released by trappers during the 2007 season. At least two more lynx have been caught and released from leg-hold traps so far this year.

However, the U.S. District Court ordered DIF&W officials immediately to clarify trapping techniques earlier this month after a lynx was found dead in a trap designed to kill animals quickly. The department enacted the emergency rules earlier this month.

The trapper in the November death was not charged because he apparently misinterpreted the state’s rules meant to avoid accidental lynx trappings and because he immediately reported the incident.

On Friday, members of WAM and the Animal Welfare Institute filed another petition urging the court to halt trapping with so-called “body-gripper” or Conibear traps in lynx territory, which would include all of northern Maine.

As an alternative, the groups recommended requiring that trappers in the Unorganized Territory check their Conibear traps every 24 hours. The current trap time is five days.

“Two lynx killed in two weeks is not a fluke,” the groups wrote in a brief filed with the court Friday, “A similar thing occurred in 2005. It is a fluke that officials found out about the second one, given the trapper’s effort to conceal it and the fact that each DIFW warden has a 500-square-mile area to patrol.”

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