Maine Wins Lynx Lawsuit
Animal rights activists have lost their latest battle to stop trapping in Maine.
On November 10, Judge John Woodcock, Jr., of the Federal District Court in Bangor, denied a request from the Animal Welfare Institute of Idaho for a permanent injunction against the state of Maine to stop trapping in order to protect Canada lynx.
The lynx was designated as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on March 24, 2000. But it has been illegal to hunt or trap lynx in Maine since 1967.
The most important thing for you to know is this: Maine probably has more lynx today than ever, an estimated total exceeding 1,000 animals. As far as Maine officials are concerned, Canada lynx are neither threatened nor endangered. They are doing well here.
Maine is on the southern end of the range for Canada lynx that are plentiful to our north in Quebec – so plentiful that they are hunted and trapped there. The lynx population here rises and falls along with the population of the animal’s principle prey: snowshoe hares.
Along with the excellent work of Maine Assistant Attorney Generals Chris Taub and Nancy Macirowski, the testimony of Dr. Ken Elowe of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W) was the decisive factor in convincing Judge Woodcock that the lawsuit had no merit.
Twice in the last three years, national animal rights groups have used the ESA’s lynx listing to seek declaratory relief and injunctions in federal court against Maine laws and regulations.
The first lawsuit, Animal Protection Institute v. Martin, resulted in an October 4, 2007, Consent Decree in which IF&W made a commitment to new regulations restricting the type, size, and placement of traps in Maine. IF&W paid $140,000 in attorney’s fees to API as part of that settlement.
Much to the state’s surprise, a similarly-named animal rights group, The Animal Welfare Institute, along with the Wildlife Alliance of Maine – led by people who were a party to the earlier consent decree – filed another lawsuit on August 11, 2008, seeking the same injunctive relief and charging that IF&W was violating the ESA by allowing trapping practices that result in the capture of some lynx.
On November 26, 2008, Judge Woodcock issued a fifty-page order on AWI’s motion for preliminary injunction, granting the motion in part and denying it in part.
The Court ordered the state to “immediately take all action necessary to avoid the trapping of Canada lynx in Conibear traps.”
IF&W acted swiftly and adopted an emergency rule on December 4, 2008, imposing additional limitations on the way Conibear traps can be set in Wildlife Management Districts 1 – 11.
Unfortunately, within two weeks of the emergency order, two Canada lynx were found dead as a result of encounters with Conibear traps, and AWI moved for an emergency temporary restraining order.
That is the order that Judge Woodcock rejected on November 10. In mid-April and late June of this year, the Judge hosted six days of hearings on this matter. AWI specifically was asking that leghold and Conibear traps be prohibited on land where lynx are present.
The state (Office of the Attorney General) and IF&W defended against the suit with support from a group of interveners consisting of sportsmen’s and trapper’s organizations. At the national level the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance has been very involved in defending against all of these lawsuits, and at the state level, the Maine Trappers Association has been in the lead.
From the get go, the animal rights activists and IF&W have been unable to agree on any of the facts about lynx in Maine. Judge Woodcock noted that the parties disagreed on “an array of factual issues, some simple, some complex” from the cyclical nature of the lynx population in Maine to the extent that leghold traps cause physical injuries to lynx.
“The parties do not even agree on the number of lynx in the state of Maine,” noted Woodcock.
AWI offered testimony of Dr. Paul Paquet and Camilla Fox. IF&W relied on the testimony of Dr. Elowe. Trappers provided testimony from Dr. Craig McLaughlin and Dana Johnson, President of the Maine Trappers Association.
Forced to choose his experts, Woodcock went with Dr. Elowe.
“Neither Dr. Paquet nor Ms. Fox’s level of expertise about Canada lynx in Maine compares favorably with Dr. Elowe’s long term, in depth, professional knowledge of wildlife in the state of Maine, including lynx.”
Woodcock noted that Dr. Elowe has been employed by IF&W since 1988 and been responsible for all mammals since 1990.
“To the extent the case has been a battle of experts,” wrote Woodcock, “the Court has relied on Dr. Elowe’s testimony over the testimony of both Dr. Paquet and Ms. Fox.”
Woodcock expressed particular concern over Ms. Fox’s testimony, writing, “the Court has a sense of disquiet about the extent to which Ms. Fox was testifying as an objective expert as opposed to an educated advocate.”
Woodcock also said he found “AWI’s generic evidence and speculative inferences much less convincing than IF&W’s specific records.”
Concluding that “Animal Welfare Institute and the Wildlife Alliance of Maine failed to sustain their burden of proof to demonstrate that the Canada lynx will suffer irreparable harm if an injunction against the state of Maine does not issue,” Judge Woodcock denied the plaintiff’s request for a permanent injunction.
So, what are the facts about lynx in Maine? To a great extent, this case involved a disagreement over “irreparable harm.”
The ESA prohibits the taking (capture, killing, harming) of any listed animal, and there has been much litigation focused on this question: are we talking irreparable harm to a single animal or to the total population of animals?
Woodcock cited previous cases to reach his decision that the incidental take of a single lynx does not cause irreparable harm to the total lynx population in Maine. And he is absolutely correct.
Here are the facts, from Dr. Elowe.
- Maine has at least 650 breeding adults, plus kittens and juveniles, and a total population exceeding 1000 lynx.
- No lynx have been reported trapped in killer-type Conibear traps since December 2008 when IF&W amended its regulations governing their use.
- Since 1999, six lynx have been captured in Conibear traps. Four were captured prior to June 2007 when IF&W enacted new Conibear rules. Two were captured and died in Conibear traps in 2008. Neither of those traps was legally set.
- Lynx have been and will continue to be caught in leghold traps even when set in compliance with state law. IF&W does not believe that an occasional incidental capture of a lynx is in any way harming the population, or even the individual animal.
- Between 1999 and 2006, about thirty lynx were caught in leghold traps. IF&W examined about half of those. None of the thirty was killed from being trapped. Only one required veterinarian care.
- Since IF&W adopted new regulations in June 2007, trappers have caught eight lynx in leghold traps. One sustained a minor laceration that did not require veterinarian care. Two had no injuries. A fourth had a small drop of blood around the bottom of the foot of the pad. A fifth sustained a small laceration the size of a pea and a very slight limp upon release.
- Since 1999, IF&W itself has captured over 100 lynx in foothold traps for its radio-collaring research program. Only one lynx required veterinarian care. Many were trapped repeatedly and some had litters after being caught and collared. Some lynx realized the benefit of an easy meal was worth getting caught and were repeatedly found in traps. They called those lynx “trap happy.”
- Lynx can recover from major injuries (one that suffered a broken leg was rehabilitated and lived another five years).
We know a lot about lynx, mostly because the federal government has invested a lot of money on research since the animal was listed as threatened.
Lynx are thriving in Maine, but populations will continue to follow the cycles of their principle prey, snowshoe hares. Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has some of the world’s foremost experts on Canada lynx, and continues to do a superb job of monitoring and protecting these critters. National and state animal rights groups will continue to misuse the Endangered Species Act to bring lawsuits that waste time and resources and contribute nothing to the conservation of the animals they claim to love.