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Feds Want More Land Protected For Canadian Lynx Angering Timber Interests
09/26/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

The threatened Canadian Lynx could have more of its habitat in Maine protected, under a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal officials set aside nearly 9,400 square miles of forest for lynx in northern Maine in early 2009.

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Timber interests, which fought the earlier land designations, said adding more territory could make it difficult to secure future federal permits for harvesting and other projects. But environmental groups in Maine said the initial protection plan for lynx didn't go far enough and needs to be expanded.

Canadian lynx are solitary, nocturnal cats with tufted ears and, silvery brown fur. Their wide, thick paws come in handy in the winter, as they hunt for snowshoe hare. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first set aside critical habitat for lynx in 2006. Federal officials declined to designate any land in Maine, after owners of large tracts of industrial forestland convinced them that THEY had a better plan for protecting the species. But three years later, after an internal investigation revealed the initial designations were improperly influenced by a Bush Administration official, the federal government reversed course and set aside more than nine thousand square miles of habitat in Northern Maine.

"Maine is critical becuase we have the only viable populations, breeding populations of Canada Lynx in the Eastern United States," said Jym St. Pierre, who runs the Maine chapter of RESTORE: The North Woods.

He said the designation four years ago didn't go far enough. St. Pierre hopes the federal government's move this week, to protect 500 square miles of additional territory marks the beginning of a sustained effort to fill holes in the agency's original protection plan.

"You know, what they're saiding essentially now is, they're trying to designate, as habitat, where the lynx actually live," he said.

The new designations come after a series of unsuccessful legal challenges by snowmobile groups based in Wyoming and Washington state. The new proposal sets aside more than 41,000 square miles of territory in Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Wyoming. In Maine, the new parcels include 217 square miles in the Van Buren area of Eastern Aroostook Country and 304 square miles in the Herseytown-Stacyville area of Northern Penobscot County. Wildlife biologist Jim Zelenek, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said it's likely those areas have been home to Canadian lynx for a while.

"We just waited until we had the data to said that needs to be included as well," said Zelenek.

The data includes radio telemetry reports, incidental capture of lynx in traps set for other species and lynx deaths due to motor vehicle collisions. Word that the federal government is proposing to set aside more territory in Maine, though, does not sit well with the group that represents the interests of many of the state's largest timberland owners.

"It's the unknowns," said Patrick Strauch, he heads the Maine Forest Products Council. "It's the federal nexus of having that much land designated in critical habitat."

Strauch said his members worry about their future ability to get federal permits to harvest and conduct other operations on their land.

"I don't want to be penalized for the success of finding more lynx," he said.

Public comment on the additional designations of Canadian Lynx habitat is being accepted through December 26th.

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