Canada lynx living in Minnesota — or at least paying a visit from time to time — got some good news this week.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reversed a controversial ruling on habitat protection for the cat.
The policy, written by the since-departed Julie MacDonald, deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, was controversial because it reduced potential protected areas for the animal, which has been listed as a “threatened” species since 2000. In her work, MacDonald repeatedly overruled the recommendations of FWS scientists who studied endangered species and pressured others to change recommendations.
Critics pointed to MacDonald, a political appointee, as another example of the Bush administration’s disregard for science. She resigned in May amid inquiries from the Interior Department’s inspector general and the House Natural Resources Committee.
Natural Resources chair Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said in a statement that MacDonald, a civil engineer, “should never have been allowed near the endangered species program.” He said MacDonald’s involvement in ESA cases over her three-year tenure was an example of “this administration’s penchant for torpedoing science.”
In northern Minnesota, biologists originally proposed 3,546 square miles of “critical habitat” for the lynx. MacDonald and her staff shrunk the area down to 317 square miles, all in Voyagers National Park. A November 2006 report said the original area was “slightly more” extensive than the new borders. There has been no word on any revisions.
“We don’t know what the new boundaries will be,” said lynx biologist Ron Moen of the University of Minnesota Duluth.
426 sightings in state
Critical habitat is a required step under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. It adds another layer of bureaucratic review on possible impacts to the species; private landowners are affected only if they receive federal money or permits. “My personal opinion is that for lynx in Minnesota, it will be relatively inconsequential,” said Rich Baker, endangered species coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Moen estimates that 100 to 300 lynx live at least part-time in Minnesota, although his telemetry studies indicate that 40 percent of those animals spend time in Ontario. From 2000 through 2006, the DNR had 426 sightings of lynx reported to it by the public. Most of the sightings were in Lake, Cook and St. Louis counties.
The lynx is a medium-sized cat with long legs and pointy, black-tipped ears. Adult males average 22 pounds in weight and 33.5 inches in length (head to tail), and females are slightly smaller. The lynx’s long legs and large feet make it highly adapted for hunting in deep snow. Snowshoe hares make up 80-to-90 percent of its diet, Moen said.