AUGUSTA, Maine — Two wildlife organizations are asking a court to block Maine from opening the fox and coyote trapping season next week until a larger lawsuit over Canada lynx is resolved.
The Wildlife Alliance of Maine and the Animal Welfare Institute are both involved in a federal lawsuit alleging that the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has not taken enough steps to prevent Canada lynx from being inadvertently caught in traps. Lynx are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
U.S. District Judge John Woodcock in Bangor held several weeks of hearings on the case earlier this year and is expected to issue a ruling soon. However, members of the two groups sought a preliminary injunction on Wednesday to prevent the early fox and coyote trapping seasons from opening as scheduled on Oct. 18.
“What we are asking is to stop the early fox and coyote seasons just to give the judge time to make a decision,” said Daryl DeJoy of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine.
The two organizations have obtained documents showing that at least 44 lynx have been caught in traps in Maine since 1999. At least 20 of those lynx were caught during October, the groups said Wednesday.
The vast majority of the wildcats were released alive. However, the organizations contend that some may have been injured in the process and that even an accidental trapping is illegal under federal laws.
DIF&W and organizations representing trappers have argued that the department has taken concrete steps to avoid harm to lynx. Those steps include banning larger foothold traps and rewriting Maine’s trapping regulations to avoid inadvertent trappings. They further state that some of the most recent trappings — including two lynx that were killed last year — resulted from trappers not strictly following or purposefully violating the regulations.
In recent years, DIF&W has submitted several applications for a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would protect the state from liability for accidental lynx deaths due to legal trapping. Such a permit would nullify the lawsuit.
DIF&W officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The department estimates that there are about 500 lynx in Maine, which is home to the only self-sustaining population of the medium-size wildcats in the Eastern U.S.