The story of trapping in Canada lynx areas in Maine continues.
Since mid-2003, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife had worked on an incidental take plan that would cover the agency in the event lynx, an Endangered Species Act-listed species, were trapped. This is required by federal law. I have been closely involved in monitoring the process and hoped for a far better outcome. Unfortunately, it appears the process was subverted in the last year or so, allowing DIF&W to obtain a permit that was not worthy of the standards the Endangered Species Act has required since its implementation in 1973.
The Endangered Species Act requires minimization and mitigation of negative effects on the species to the maximum extent practicable in its determination of eligibility for an incidental take plan. Neither of these principles was upheld when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued the permit to the state, resulting in two reported deaths of Canada lynx within three weeks of the permit issuance. The incidental take plan allows for three lynx to be killed in 15 years.
Clearly, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowed the use of killer-type traps in woods populated by Canada lynx without any device that would exclude lynx from those traps, minimization was not considered. Public comments to the effect that these devices should be mandatory were numerous, yet disregarded in the decision-making by USFWS.
Video obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request of testing conducted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service clearly show captive lynx easily climbing leaning poles used with these killer traps. These videos were shown to our biologists. This evidence was dismissed by DIF&W and ignored by USFWS. The result? Two lynx killed in the exact leaning pole set shown in the video tests. At best, this shows collusion and ignorance of the Endangered Species Act.
We have documents from USFWS to DIF&W recommending best management practices, or BMP, for trapping — a set of agreed-upon wildlife trapping practices developed by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Yet the state ignored those recommendations. We have had several lynx with broken legs over the last 10 years from drag sets — traps that have a chain attached to a branch or other weight that the animal can drag instead of being staked into the ground. Drags often become entangled, yet USFWS’ recommendations that Maine only allow staked traps — which, when combined with shorter chain and swivels, reduce injury — were ignored. Best management practices for trapping furbearers do not recommend drag sets.
As for mitigation, the state has agreed to manage (log) less than 6,000 acres of forest for lynx and hare in an area north of Moosehead Lake. Two things bother me about this. One is that while they are managing forest to be prime habitat for lynx, trapping will still be allowed there. How is that mitigating the anticipated take of Canada lynx? Second, the area that will be logged contains prime deer habitat, including yards that offer deer protection and food during severe winters. Should we be managing for one species to the detriment of another?
The incidental take plan also allows snares (cable restraints) to be used, in theory to trap coyotes. USFWS previously recommended a completely separate incidental take plan for snares. Yet last year, the agency suddenly felt it was acceptable to allow them to be included along with other traps. This allowance is inconsistent with the administrative record.
Lynx populations tend to follow hare populations. The most recent science from the University of Maine does not paint a rosy picture for the future of snowshoe hare populations over the next 20 years, and this incidental take plan is valid for the next 15.
The state and USFWS should be applying the precautionary principle when it comes to lynx, and, indeed, all wildlife. The recent lynx deaths could have been prevented by listening to the many public comments and being more inclusive in the process of developing a meaningful plan for trapping in lynx areas.
However, that is not the way our state operates. It is time for the species to take precedence over those who would exploit that species, as federal law requires.
Daryl DeJoy of Penobscot is executive director of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine.