It has been just one month since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to Maine’s plan to protect Canada lynx while still allowing trapping of other animals. Already, two lynx, which are on the federal endangered species list, have been killed in traps. Only three can be killed in 15 years under a permit the state secured from federal regulators. Maine had no choice but to further restrict trapping in lynx habitat, which covers much of the northern part of the state, while coming up with a new plan.
The permit, issued on Nov. 4, was years in the making and is the first issued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service involving Canada lynx, which were given threatened status in 2000. The permit officially is called an “incidental take permit” because it allows lynx to be trapped in the course of legal trapping activities. Under the terms of the permit, which is in effect for 15 years, 183 lynx can be incidentally caught and released with no or minor injuries; nine can be treated for more serious injuries and released. Only three can be caught and killed during the length of the agreement.
But two already have been killed during the first month of the 15-year agreement. The first was trapped and died in Oxbow Plantation. The trapper reported the incident to wildlife officials, which is required by federal law. The second dead lynx was found on Dec. 7 by a game warden checking a trap line in St. Croix Township, north of Houlton, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
As a result, DIF&W late Tuesday announced it temporarily banned the use of lethal traps commonly used to catch fisher and pine marten above ground or snow level in 14 of the state’s 29 Wildlife Management Districts.
Those districts include all of Aroostook County, as well as the northern sections of Somerset, Piscataquis, Penobscot, Hancock and Washington counties. Underwater traps used to catch beaver are not affected by the order, which will be in effect for 90 days.
These steps are necessary under the agreed plan that accompanied the incidental take permit. After the first death of a lynx in a trap, DIF&W was supposed to meet with groups like the Maine Trappers Association to discuss ways to minimize lynx deaths. Because the second death happened so quickly afterward, there was no time for this work. The second death triggered “regulatory measures to prevent further lynx fatalities.” With a prohibition on trapping for this season, the department has until next fall to develop permanent regulations, which are likely to include a requirement for exclusion devices, boxes that would keep lynx out of traps used to catch smaller animals.
According to DIF&W, the lynx deaths are the first two documented in traps since 2009. Trappers must report lynx caught in their traps. Meanwhile, 26 lynx have died in collisions with vehicles since 2009.
The department has tracked 85 lynx with radio collars for 12 years. The primary cause of death among these cats has been predation by fishers and starvation because of lungworm.
Maine’s Canada lynx population is thought to be between 500 and 1,000. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not have data on Maine’s lynx population to know whether it is growing or declining. The Maine wildlife department will conduct a population survey this winter by counting lynx tracks and their density. The last survey was done in 2006
A biological opinion that accompanied the incidental take permit says populations of lynx and snowshoe hare — lynx’s primary prey — are “probably at the highest levels observed in the last century.” But, the opinion warns, populations of both animals are expected to decline in the next two decades as forestland that was clearcut in the 1970s and ’80s grows back and matures.
For this reason, the federal department has focused much of its lynx recovery work on protecting and increasing habitat for the cats and snowshoe hare. It is working with a small group of landowners to tailor tree harvesting to improve such habitat.
Maine wildlife officials needed to work hard to continue to permit trapping in lynx habitat. Further restrictions, some of which won’t be popular, are needed if trapping is to resume next year.