Judge rejects bid to limit trapping

Posted Dec. 16, 2008, at 9:04 p.m.

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected a petition to cut short the trapping season in northern Maine in response to the deaths of two Canada lynx in recent weeks.

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock said that the two groups, the Wildlife Alliance of Maine and the Animal Welfare Institute, failed to show that lynx are being harmed by trappers who follow the state’s rules and regulations regarding trapping in lynx territory.

A larger lawsuit filed by the two groups against the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is still pending with the court.

In the most recent trapping incident, the device that ensnared one of the federally protected wildcats appeared to have been set illegally, the judge wrote. The lynx’s carcass also had been discarded in the woods in Stacyville about 50 yards from a tree that formerly held a Conibear or “body-gripper” trap, according to court documents.

Agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are investigating the death as a potential violation of the Endangered Species Act. Agents exercised a search warrant on a Patten house whose occupant had recently been cited for violating Maine’s trapping rules in areas inhabited by lynx, a threatened species.

The Wildlife Alliance of Maine and the Animal Welfare Institute had asked the judge Friday to suspend trapping with Conibear traps in northern Maine for the rest of the season, which ends Dec. 31. The groups argued the lynx found in early December, as well as a second animal killed last month, justified either halting trapping with Conibear devices immediately or mandating that sportsmen check their traps at least once every 24 hours rather than every five days as currently allowed.

But Woodcock said the most recent incident did not justify issuing a temporary restraining order against DIF&W because the trapper apparently violated the state’s rules. The trapper in the first incident, who promptly reported the death to authorities, misinterpreted the state’s rules.

“Here, the plaintiffs have demonstrated that if a trapper violates Maine law and regulation, it may and likely will result in the illegal taking of a lynx,” Woodcock wrote. “However, plaintiffs have produced no new evidence of harm to lynx caused by trappers acting in compliance with existing state law.

“Accordingly, plaintiffs have not shown that the state’s licensure scheme as recently modified violates the [Endangered Species Act],” Woodcock wrote.

DIF&W estimates that Maine is home to at least 500 lynx, which are medium-sized cats with large, fur-covered paws that allow them to pursue prey in deep snow. Maine is the only eastern state with a self-sustaining population of lynx.

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