MINNEAPOLIS— A Minnesota federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity that seeks additional protections for federally protected Canada lynx can move forward. The case challenges state-permitted fur trapping in Minnesota that injures and kills Canada lynx.
In the past decade, state and federal agencies have documented captures of 16 lynx in traps set for other wildlife in Minnesota, six of which resulted in death. The state’s lynx population may be as low as 50.
“I’m hopeful this win will convince Minnesota’s wildlife managers to protect the Canada lynx by making common-sense changes to the state’s trapping program,” said Collette Adkins, the Center’s carnivore conservation program director and lead attorney on the case. “The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources knows how to prevent most captures of these rare wild cats. There’s no reason these precious animals should continue to suffer agonizing injuries and deaths in strangulation snares and other traps.”
Trapping of Canada lynx, unless covered by a specific permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, constitutes an illegal “take” under the Endangered Species Act, even if accidental. Every year in Minnesota, a small number of trappers kill thousands of bobcats, pine martens and other animals, largely to sell their furs.
In a previous lawsuit filed by wildlife conservation groups, a Minnesota federal court in 2008 held the state liable for harm to lynx caused by trapping. It ordered the state to apply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a permit to cover its trapping program. But Minnesota officials never obtained the permit, even though lynx have continued to get caught in traps.
In ruling for the Center, the court explained that the “prior judgment rested on an assumption that certain changes would come, but they never did.” It therefore rejected arguments by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that the judgment in the 2008 case meant the Center could not bring the current lawsuit.
“This ruling is a win for Canada lynx and for all of us who care about these beautiful wild cats,” said Adkins. “I’m hoping this ruling persuades the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to stop fighting us in court and instead do the right thing by further restricting trapping in places where Canada lynx are living.”
The Center’s lawsuit seeks additional measures to prevent trappers from hurting Canada lynx, such as requiring placement of certain traps within exclusion devices that prevent lynx deaths. Conibear traps snap shut in a viselike grip and have killed lynx on numerous occasions, but the Department does not require trappers to place the traps within exclusion devices. The lawsuit also seeks a ban on use of neck snares in northeastern Minnesota, home to most of the state’s Canada lynx.
Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) are distinguished from bobcats by their tufted ears, hind legs that appear longer than front legs, and a pronounced goatee under the chin. Their large paws work like snowshoes and enable them to walk on top of deep, soft snows. These cold‐loving cats feed predominantly on snowshoe hares but may also eat birds and small mammals and scavenge carcasses.
The lynx was protected as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2000. Its federally designated critical habitat includes northeastern Minnesota.
Trapping, habitat destruction, climate change and other threats continue to hurt Canada lynx. Although once more widespread, lynx currently reside in small breeding populations in Minnesota, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Maine. A reintroduced population also resides in Colorado.
In 2018 the Trump administration announced plans to remove federal protection from lynx, but the Service has not yet moved forward with an actual proposal.