A federal judge has ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its refusal to declare the lynx endangered, saying it ignored its own biologists’ warnings that the cat is nearing extinction.
“This is a huge victory for the lynx, its ecosystem and the integrity of the Endangered Species Act,” Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, said Friday. His group is one of 13 environmental organizations that sued in January 1996 to try to force a listing.
The federal agency decided against listing the lynx under the Endangered Species Act in 1994 despite warnings from its own field offices that only a few hundred of the secretive cats remain in a few states.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has consistently ignored the analysis of its expert biologists,” U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said in ordering the agency to review its decision.
“The agency ignores the findings of its own biologists that forest clearing and current timber management represent ongoing threats to the existence of the already greatly diminished lynx population and that such threats will only continue absent imposition of legal protections under the Endangered Species Act,” she said in the ruling Thursday.
The service will have 60 days to reevaluate its decision against listing the lynx, a brownish-gray feline about the size of a bobcat. They usually weigh less than 30 pounds, can leap as far as 20 feet and run as fast as 20 to 25 miles an hour in short bursts.
The Fish and Wildlife Service and its parent Interior Department had no immediate response to the court ruling, a spokeswoman said Friday.
The lynx once ranged throughout many parts of the northwestern and northeastern United States.
Thousands of lynx remain in Alaska and Canada, but biologists estimate there are only a few hundred scattered around other U.S. states - about 20 to 50 in Maine, 150 to 400 in Montana, 50 or fewer in Idaho and 100 to 150 in Washington state, said Bill Snape, a lawyer for Defenders of Wildlife.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first proposed the lynx as a candidate for protection in 1982, saying it suspected the cat was threatened or endangered but didn’t have enough information for a decision.
In 1994, the agency’s regional office in Denver proposed listing the lynx as endangered throughout New England, the Great Lakes, northern Plains and the southern Rockies and as threatened in the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest. But the service rejected the proposal in December 1995, asserting the lynx “still occupies much of its historic range.”
Judge Kessler said that conclusion was among a series of “glaringly faulty factual premises.”
It was made “in the face of overwhelming evidence in the record that the lynx has been entirely eliminated from approximately 17 states in which it once existed, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, South Dakota, Nebraska and Oregon,” she wrote.