One lynx has been killed and at least six others captured in traps during the 2011-12 trapping season even as Maine wildlife officials await federal action on a permit intended to shield the state from liability when the protected wildcats are caught in the future.
While six of the lynx were released alive after being caught in foothold traps, one of the cats was killed in a so-called Conibear, or body-gripper trap, that had apparently been set for a different species.
Wally Jakubas, mammal group leader with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said the investigation into the killed lynx is continuing but that the trapper is facing charges of failing to follow proper procedures when setting traps in lynx territory. Jakubas declined to release additional information on the case.
Jakubas said the other six lynx were released with little to no signs of harm from the foothold traps, which are typically padded.
“The trappers all cooperated on those [cases],” Jakubas said.
With an estimated 600-1,200 lynx in the state, Maine has the only sizable population of the reclusive cat in the eastern U.S. Lynx resemble bobcats but have large padded feet that allow them to run on top of snow while pursuing snowshoe hare or other prey.
As a federally designated “threatened” species, Canada lynx are protected from harm or harassment — including trapping — under the Endangered Species Act. But each year in Maine, a number of lynx turn up in traps set by sportsmen targeting other animals such as pine marten or fishers.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently reviewing the Maine DIF&W’s application for an “incidental take” permit that would allow the state to continue running a trapping season throughout much of northern, western and eastern Maine. If granted, the permit would effectively protect the state and trappers from legal claims under the Endangered Species Act if lynx are inadvertently caught in legally set traps intended for other species.
The federal agency is accepting public comments through Feb. 7 on Maine’s more than 300-page application for an incidental take permit. In order to receive the permit, DIF&W must prove that they are taking steps to conserve lynx and to minimize impacts from trapping on the cats.
Maine has already enacted substantial changes to its trapping regulations in recent years in an attempt to reduce the likelihood of lynx captures. Those changes were prompted, in large part, by two federal court cases filed by animal welfare organizations accusing DIF&W of failing to do enough to protect lynx from harm due to trapping.
Jakubas said, at least so far, the number of comments received from trappers supporting the state’s application has exceeded those submitted by critics. He said the state would like to have a permit in hand before the 2012-13 season begins in the fall but acknowledged that may not happen due to the complexity of the issue.
“There are a lot changes that the [U.S.] Fish and Wildlife Service has asked for,” he said.
Daryl DeJoy with the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, which is one of the organizations that unsuccessfully sued the state, agreed with Jakubas on that point.
“As the [application] stands now, I believe there is no way they will get” a permit, DeJoy said. “If they make some pretty substantial changes, then sure. And that is what we are asking.”
DeJoy also repeated assertions that he and others believe other trappings go unreported and, therefore, the data used to support the state’s application is flawed.
“I think it is very likely that we do not hear about the lynx caught in traps that are injured,” DeJoy said.
But Jakubas said all trappers should be reporting lynx. The department also anticipates higher figures than the seven lynx caught so far this season, which is all but finished except for beaver trapping.
DIF&W’s permit application estimates that, on average, 13 lynx would be caught each year during the 15-year period covered by an incidental take permit, with the vast majority of those lynx released alive with little or no injury.
DeJoy and others within the animal welfare community question the department’s assertions that lynx are usually released unharmed and have said that the cats should be examined by a veterinarian and fitted with radio tracking collars to monitor them post-release.
For information on lynx and the state’s application to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit www.fws.gov/mainefieldoffice/Canada_lynx.html.