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Imperiled Lynx Gain New Ground

Sep 12, 2014 12:20 PM EDT

Canada lynx gained new federal protections in New Mexico on Thursday, wildlife officials announced, serving as an important step towards this elusive species' recovery.

However, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) denied the imperiled animal designated critical habitat in the Southern Rockies of New Mexico, Colorado and portions of Wyoming, as they were deemed non-essential to the conservation of the species.

While this means that certain potentially harmful human activities - excluding hunting and trapping - may continue without intervention, the lynx will still be protected as threatened throughout the lower 48 states, The Associated Press (AP) reports.

However, this two-part ruling is still not good enough for some wildlife advocates, who say they intend to file a lawsuit challenging the exclusion of those areas and some others in the Northern Rockies.

"By ignoring huge swaths of currently occupied lynx habitat, the Service is undermining lynx recovery efforts yet again," Drew Kerr, a carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians, told Reuters.

Historically, the Canada lynx ranged from Alaska across Canada and into many of the northern US states. But the rare cat spread to New Mexico and the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and until now, these populations were not protected.

The FWS did designate about 39,000 square miles of critical habitat for the lynx, focusing on areas where they believe the wild cat will survive over the long-term, rather than regions where they may just visit.

"Either the habitat there is marginal, or it's just too far away from the main population," FWS wildlife biologist Jim Zelenak told the AP. "We need to stick to the biology of the animals."

Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), with their iconic tufted ears and large padded paws, live in mature boreal forests with dense cover and deep snowpack. They were classified as a threatened species in 2000 under the Endangered Species Act.

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