A national environmental group says it will file suit to change how the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources allows trapping of animals like bobcat, fisher and marten because those traps also are killing federally protected lynx.
The Center for Biological Diversity gave formal notice to the DNR Wednesday that the group believes trapping that even accidentally takes lynx is a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
Over the past 10 years state and federal agencies have documented 16 lynx caught in traps set for other wildlife in Minnesota, six of which resulted in death, the group noted.
The Center wants to see the DNR to ban all snares in the lynx’s primary range in the state, namely Northeastern Minnesota, and also require a special exclusion device on conibear traps. Those changes already have been made by state wildlife agencies in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.
"The DNR can prevent lynx trapping without ending furbearer trapping in the lynx zone. The biggest problem has been neck snares, and we’d like to see those banned," Collette Adkins, the Center’s carnivore conservation director, told the News Tribune. "Conibear traps can also be lethal and we’d like to see those used only with exclusion devices. That’d be consistent to what the Center and others achieved in Maine after similar litigation."
In a statement given to the News Tribune Wednesday DNR Deputy Commissioner Barb Naramore said the agency "takes its responsibilities related to conservation of the Canada lynx very seriously."
"We received the Center for Biological Diversity’s Notice of Intent to Sue this morning. We believe we are in full compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act and the 2008 court order pertaining to the Canada lynx and trapping within Minnesota’s lynx zone,'' Naramore said. "We will be reviewing the Notice of Intent to Sue and other relevant information available to us."
Lynx were listed as a "threatened" species under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2000. Its federally designated "critical habitat" includes Northeastern Minnesota.
No one knows how many of the small forest cats currently live in northern Minnesota. Their numbers appear to fluctuate greatly, with some migration south from Ontario and Manitoba in some years. While studies a decade ago confirmed lynx were living, breeding and thriving in the northern tier of Minnesota counties, it’s still believed that their population is small — somewhere between 50 and 200 — and that it fluctuates depending on the current population of their primary prey, snowshoe hares.
"It’s outrageous that Minnesota’s lynx keep needlessly suffering and dying in indiscriminate traps," Adkins said. "The state needs to step up and implement sensible changes to prevent the tragic deaths of these highly imperiled cats. Minnesota’s rare animals shouldn’t be strangled in neck snares."
Trapping 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 wildlife, largely to sell their furs.
In a previous lawsuit filed by conservation groups, a federal judge in 2008 ruled the state was liable for harm to lynx caused by trapping aimed at other animals. The court ordered the state to apply to the Fish and Wildlife Service for a permit to cover its trapping program. But the state never obtained the permit.
The court also ordered the state to better protect lynx by issuing regulations to restrict trapping in core lynx habitat. But even after these additional measures went into effect, the rare cats have continued to get caught in traps.
“Minnesota’s wildlife managers would rather appease a small number of trappers than protect these beautiful wild cats. We hope this lawsuit will finally convince the state to make lynx conservation a true priority,’’ Adkins said.
The lawsuit will seek additional measures to prevent trappers from hurting Canada lynx, such as requiring placement of certain traps within “lynx 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 them within exclusion devices.
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. Last year the Trump administration announced plans to remove federal protection from lynx but has not yet moved forward with an actual proposal.