The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is recommending the removal of the Canada lynx from the federal Endangered Species List, where it has been listed as threatened since 2000, according to an announcement made Thursday by USFWS.
This recommendation is based on a species analysis recently completed by USFWS that indicates the lynx populations within the contiguous US have recovered to the point of no longer warranting protection under the Endangered Species Act.
“Through the stewardship of our partners such as the Maine Forest Products Council and many other private landowners, the population [of Canada lynx] in Maine is growing and expanding,” said Chandler Woodcock, Commissioner, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, in a prepared statement. “Not only are lynx found in more places, but signs of lynx are found more frequently during our surveys. And the research conducted by our biologists in conjunction with the USFWS showed modern forest management practices are compatible with lynx conservation.”
The recommendation does not remove the Endangered Species Act protections currently in place for the Canada lynx. Delisting a species requires the USFWS to publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register, receive public comments on the proposal, review and analyze those comments, conduct a peer review and then announce a final decision. Much like the process of listing a species, it takes time.
“There are a couple stages to this process,” said Meagan Racey, public affairs specialist for the USFWS, in a phone interview.
The process of delisting a species typically takes about a year, Racey said, but it can take longer, depending on agency resources and priorities.
Essentially, when a species is removed from the federal Endangered Species List, management and conservation efforts shift back into the hands of state wildlife agencies. For Maine, home to the largest Canada lynx population in the lower 48 states, that would be the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
“This species has been of conservation interest at the federal level and particularly to the state of Maine for a long time,” said Racey, “Certainly as a part of our [delisting] process we explore what we expect will continue at the state level because what we’re called upon to do is make sure that the species maintains that recovered status … One of the things we do if a species is delisted is do a post-delisting monitoring plan and work with the states on that.”
The recently completed USFWS Species Status Assessment for the Canada lynx is a compilation and evaluation of the best available scientific information on the historical, current and possible future conditions for the Canada lynx, as well as its primary food source, the snowshoe hare. Over the course of two years, USFWS developed the assessment, working closely with federal, state and academic experts, including Maine’s DIF&W.
“After nearly two decades of monitoring and research, Maine’s lynx population continues to grow in response to an abundance of forested habitat and prey,” said DIF&W lynx biologist Jen Vashon in a prepared statement. “We are committed to continued protection and monitoring of lynx in Maine, and sharing information with private forest managers.”
The Canada lynx — which can also be found in parts of Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Colorado — was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2000, largely due to a lack of regulations protecting the species on Federal public lands, which is where a majority of the habitat for Canada lynx was believed to be located in the lower 48 states. Since receiving ESA protection, Federal land managers throughout the lynx’s range have amended their management plans and implemented conservation measures to conserve the species.
The Canada lynx is a creature of the cold, built for snowy conditions and coniferous forests. Maine’s lynx population — which is almost exclusively in the northern part of the state — is actually the southern edge of a much larger population that extends into Quebec and New Brunswick.
The last official population estimate for lynx in Maine was in 2006, when DIFW estimated that between 750 and 1,000 adult lynx occupied northern and western Maine spruce-fir flats.
“At the time, we felt that the population had peaked because that was a record number of lynx, but we’ve been surprised that hasn’t been the case,” said Vashon.
DIFW is currently conducting track surveys that are indicating that Maine’s lynx population is continuing to grow and even expand its range. Biologists are now finding lynx in portions of eastern and western Maine where they hadn’t been found before.
“I know people always like numbers, and that’s a hard thing,” Vashon said. “But all our surveys indicate that the population has continued to increase since our 2006 estimate. [Lynx] have gone from rare to common in northern Maine. We’re just getting sightings of lynx all the time, people observing when they’re out canoeing and fishing in northern Maine, and even in their backyards.”
Enacted by Congress in 1973, the Endangered Species Act provides a framework for listing endangered and threatened species in the country for special federal protections. For example, species listed as endangered cannot be possessed or sold, and federal funds may be made available to conserve land that is crucial habitat for that species. The Secretary of the Interior can also allocate federal funds to state programs for the conservation of listed species.
Providing the Canada lynx protection under the ESA also prompted an increase in scientific understanding of lynx biology. Research, monitoring and conservation efforts conducted by state and federal agencies, tribes and academic institutions, helped refine biologists’ understanding of habitat needs, distributions, population characteristics and potential stressors.
In 1999, the Maine DIF&W began a 12-year study in northern Aroostook County to assess lynx population status, survival and reproductive rates and behavior. Information gathered from this study was instrumental in providing information on lynx biology, habitat needs, range and the ability of Maine’s lynx population to expand. The department continues to track radio-collared Canada lynx and is entering the third and final year of a track survey. Preliminary results from the current survey effort show that the lynx are occupying a greater percentage of the available habitat in Maine.
“We at the [U.S.] Fish and Wildlife Service really commend the states and the private landowners within the Canada lynx’s range, as well as the tribes and conservation organizations and in particular the Maine Forest Products Council. We commend them for the work they’ve been doing to support the species, the support they’ve been providing and ongoing collaboration they’ve been involved in so we can have a strong future for Canada lynx in Maine,” Racey said. “Regardless of the federal process, there’s a really strong gratitude to those who have made the Canada lynx a key species of the state of Maine, and it’s really thanks to their stewardship that we think there will be a secure future for them.”
For more information on the Canada lynx, visit https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/es/canadaLynx.php. To learn more about the delisting process, visit “Delisting a Species” fact sheet.
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