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Illegal Trapping of Imperiled Lynx Spurs Lawsuit in Idaho

Jun 30, 2014 05:19 PM EDT

Five conservation groups filed a lawsuit Monday against Idaho wildlife officials, contending the state failed to restrict illegal trappings that endanger the imperiled Canada lynx.

Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Clearwater, WildEarth Guardians and Western Environmental Law Center argue that such snares favored by hunters are in direct violation of the US Endangered Species Act (ESA), and that the state needs an "incidental take" permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service for recreational trapping to continue.

"Idaho can't just ignore federal law and go on condoning the trapping of this rare and magnificent cat," Amy Atwood, with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release.

Canada lynx, one of the rarest cats in the United States, are long-legged, medium-sized animals that roam mountainous terrain from Maine to Washington and south through the Rocky Mountains, according to Reuters. Under the ESA, they were classified as endangered in the lower 48 states, and so killing or injuring these animals without a permit is prohibited. These cats are believed to number only in the hundreds, with as few as 100 in the state of Idaho.

A permit would only be issued if hunters needed to set traps to catch other animals, like bobcats, and so inadvertently harming a lynx would be overlooked, as long as it didn't hurt the overall population, the Associated Press reported.

However, "with a dramatic increase in fur prices, especially for bobcat, at least three incidents of lynx being unintentionally trapped have been confirmed in just the last two years," the Center for Biological Diversity wrote.

These groups want the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to develop a conservation plan with measures to minimize incidental trapping of lynx, which would include restrictions on these steel-jaw traps, reporting requirements and a daily trap check requirement throughout lynx habitat. Similar lawsuits in Minnesota and Maine have led to such restrictions.

"Idaho officials need to understand that a healthy Idaho population of this mountain cat is critical, not just to lynx survival here, but across the western United States," said Travis Bruner, executive director of the Western Watershed Project. "We have to maintain a healthy breeding mix between Rockies and Canadian populations, and Idaho sits at the crossroads."

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